I don’t know where to start on this Remembrance Day post. I guess I can try to remember some of the things that My Great-Grandpa Hircock told me before he died. I was only a young boy when he went, but I used to spend as many Friday nights with him as possible. Friday was card night, when my Nana, Papa, Uncle Ed, Aunt Helen, Granny and Grandpa used to get together and play games for nickles. When I would get to go, I would ask Grandpa about when he was in the war, and he would tell me stories about the time he served.
One of the funny ones was when he was in Italy and they had to get their tanks through a small town that they were occupying, but there was a big, old olive tree in the center of a circle in the street. They couldn’t get their tanks around it, so they hooked a chain on, and started pulling it out of the ground. I guess the women were not too happy about that, seeing as it was their source of olives, so they all grabbed whatever they could throw, and started their assault. He said that they got the tree out, but not before a few of them had their helmets knocked off by rocks and assorted pieces of garbage. I asked him why they didn’t fight back, and he just looked very cross at me for a few seconds and said, “They were women, and they were only fighting for what was theirs. We shouldn’t have been there. They didn’t ask for war.” I didn’t understand war at that age, I just knew that if someone was throwing rocks at me, I’d throw them right back, and harder.
I look back and think about how hard it must have been to be there. Having to deal with some angry women, and knowing that you might have just killed some of their husbands or sons. I guess I’d show them a little bit of slack too. My Grandpa said that I was the only one of his grandchildren that ever asked about the war, and I learned pretty quick to not ask in front of Granny. I asked him once in front of her, and she sharply told me that he didn’t like talking about those times, and to not ask about it again, so I’d ask him to play pool with me, and I’d hit him up for a story. He was the only person I knew with a pool table in his basement, and while I could barely reach the table, I loved to watch him sink every ball, while telling me something about his time overseas. I don’t know if it was playing pool that relaxed him, that he could be himself with a seven year old kid, or that someone genuinely wanted to know what he had been through, but every so often he’d tell me a story. For that I’ll be forever grateful.
As I said, he told me some funny stories, many of which I can’t remember, but there were also other stories. Like when he was being hidden in an attic in Holland, and the children would sneak food and water to him, so that the Germans wouldn’t find him. I wish I could remember their names, but as I’ve said, I was a little kid. Maybe Mom remembers, I’ll ask her tomorrow when I talk to her. You really don’t realize what you need to remember, until you’ve already forgotten. When he would tell me about living in the attic, was the only time I’d ever seen him cry. He traveled back to the town as a much older man and visited the family that housed him, so many years ago. The parents were long since passed, but he did meet the children that had brought him nourishment whenever they could. He had said what a treat it was to get a glass of goat milk or some fresh bread, because he had taken fresh milk and baking for granted all his life, living on the farm. He was so thankful to those people for hiding him in their home, partly because he knew what the nazis would do to him if he was found, but mostly because he knew what would happen to the family. It was very intense watching him tell that story, with tears in his eyes, and his voice shaking. I remember hugging him, and telling him not to cry anymore, mostly because I was scared and didn’t know why, but partly because I was afraid Granny would hear and give me hell.
She did come down and told me to get upstairs and let him alone, but he told her I could stay, and we’d be up when we’re damn good and ready. I should add that he drank rye and water on card nights, and he rarely took shit from anyone. We stayed for a few more minutes until he regained his composure, because he wouldn’t want anyone knowing he was crying. After we went upstairs and the card game resumed, I said that he had three jacks out loud, and he punched me in the nose. Hard.
He died a few years later, and he left me his war medals, his army documents, and his WWII Armed Forces book. Granny said it was left to me, because I was the only one of his grandchildren that ever asked him about his military service. I was, and still am, proud of that, but kind of sad that no one else asked him about it. It may be a dead end, but I think I’m going to find those people’s names, and look into who their great-grandchildren are. Even just to send them an email, letting them know that someone in Canada remembers what their ancestors did for my ancestor, and how much it meant to him, and eventually, me. I really miss you Grandpa, and thank you. I wish I had understood the extent of your sacrifice when I was young, but be assured that I fully understand now. We could sure use a country full of you, now.
Lest we forget,