That’s right. My Grandma Bird was in WWII. She never really divulged a lot of information about it, but one day she actually told me a little about what she did in the war. This was also the first day that I had ever beat her at Boggle, and when her Alzheimer’s became visible to me.
I had always known that she was in the army, because she had told me about buying the big house in Harwood with the money that the Forces had given her. What she never went into detail on, was what she had done during the war. I wasn’t sure if she just didn’t care enough about it, because she had so many interests going at any given time, or if she had seen things that she didn’t want to talk about. Either way, she didn’t talk about it when we were kids at all.
Growing up, we always lived within a couple of miles of Grandma, and she was an integral part of my upbringing. She was one of the most interesting people I have ever known, and she was smart as a whip. I mean it, she had a vocabulary that was unmatched at the time. I learned this fact the hard way, because every time I would go to her house, we would have to play five or six games of Boggle before I could leave. She would beat me so bad, every time. It started when I was around eight I think, and went on until I was in my thirties. Also, she had erected a corkboard wall for her family’s accomplishments (there are many), and you had to stop to go over everything with her on each and every visit. She was very proud of all of us.
Now, my Grandmother was a naturalist, and absolutely loved birds. I’m not sure if it was her married name that got her going in her love of ornithology, or if she was fascinated as a younger woman, but one thing’s for sure, she loved everything to do with birds. She loved them so much that she wished a slow death to all cats, because they were a predator of her feathered friends. If only she had known of the prowling around neighbourhood barns with our pellet guns that we had done, and the countless pigeons that had succumbed to our leaden assaults, she probably would have served me more of her tuna casserole. Oh, how I dreaded the tuna casseroles.
Another cool thing about my Grandma Bird, was that she always did what she wanted to do, and she always spoke her mind. She never flattered people, and if you received a compliment from her, it was honest and heartfelt. I think I inherited that trait from her, except I will sometimes go searching for a compliment, whereas she didn’t give one unless it was right there. She also didn’t have trouble letting you know if she was displeased with you for whatever reason. I remember a story my Nan used to tell about the Women’s Auxiliary coming over for a tea, and my Grandma rushing around with a baby Uncle Gerry, and cleaning up after seven kids. One of the ladies noticed a cobweb in a corner and mentioned it to my Grandmother.
“Hazel, there’s a cobweb up there in the corner.”
“Well, there’s the broom. Go sweep it down.”
It doesn’t seem so bold now, with everyone saying and doing whatever they want, but for a British raised woman back in the early 60’s, that apparently shocked the lot of them. I have always loved that story, and her fire for what was important to her.
I’m getting off topic here. I can see that I’ll have to do a post or two, just dedicated to how amazing she was as a person, but this is Remembrance Day, and I should get back to the task at hand. For a really good write-up about my Grandma, Check out the article in Northumberland Today from just after she passed away. It’s a detailed account of her passions and volunteering, and also touches on what sort of person she was.
Back to the war, and her service for our country.
I was living out west, and would always head straight for Grandma’s house when I got home. It was usually at Christmas time, but one year I got home in the summer. My family had been telling me that she was getting bad with her memory, but I had never noticed when I would call or stop by. This particular visit was where I started to see it. I stopped in, and when she came to the door, she looked confused. I said hello, and noted the lack of enthusiasm that was usual when I would visit.
She said “Oh, Chris, you’re here. Okay, I could really use a hand getting my irises dug up, because I need to divide the bulbs. They are getting to be too plentiful.”
I said that of course I could help her, and then we went about a bit of gardening. While we were doing that, we talked about her childhood growing up in the area, and she pointed out places that she had lived. This was odd, but everyone had told me that she was getting worse, so I just went along. When we were done, I asked if there was anything else I could help her with. She thought that the grass could stand to be cut, so I got the lawnmower and cut the lawn.
When I finished, I went back to the house and she told me that I would have to go to her son’s (my dad) house to get my money, because he had power of attorney on her accounts. I found out later that she had a guy that worked around the house, and of course, his name was Chris.
“You don’t have to pay me, Grandma.”
The confused look was back. I could see that she didn’t know who I was. If I thought it wouldn’t make things worse, I would have started bawling right there.
Now she realised who I was, and explained about how she was having trouble with Alzheimer’s, and that her doctor thought it was from suppressing all of the trauma that she saw during the war. It turns out that she was a stenographer for the coroner’s department, and she had to walk through and take the notes while they examined the bodies of the fallen soldiers. Some of which were her friends. She said that she just pushed all of the feelings that she had to the bottom, because you weren’t allowed to have any emotions in that job.
She kept all of those memories and feelings hidden, basically for the rest of her life.
Can you imagine that? Can you? You have to see many of your friends, just laying on tables, or out in the field, dead and broken, and you can’t weep for them or their families. You have to keep it together, because it’s your job.
Now imagine that you hold those memories, tamped down, for the next 60 or so years.
I can’t. I can’t imagine the horrors that she’s seen, all in the service of our great country.To keep us free. To give us a chance.
It’s true that she probably didn’t lay in a trench, or storm a beach, but I don’t think her sacrifice was any less than those brave soldiers that gave their lives for their country. These people deserve more than a day of remembrance from us. They deserve more than the apathetic bunch of selfish whiners that we have become. They fought with their hearts and their souls to make this country a better place for everyone, but I don’t think that “better” meant to have as much Chinese crap as we could buy, or raping our country of it’s natural resources for a little bit of money right now.
I doubt that they had envisioned Walmart and McDonalds as being the “pillars” of society, or that voter turnout would be so damn poor. Do you?
Yes, I admit that they fought for our freedom, and freedom is a very liberal term, but I’m pretty sure those men and women weren’t dying for us to not give a shit about anyone but ourselves. I know my grandparents weren’t. It’s the exact opposite of what they stood for. What they fought tooth and nail for.