Nov 12

Sometimes I get choked up

Remembrance Day is one of those times. It’s the one day a year, where I sing the national anthem, look around at all of the people gathered to honour the fallen, and actually think about how everything in my life could have been so different. I think about that all the time, really. I am so very lucky to be where I am, with the people I surround myself with. This Remembrance Day was no different, well, except the first part.

Last week the girls asked me when I was going to BC. I told them that it was probably Friday, and they got a little whiny, then Yaya asked what time I was leaving. I told her it would probably be late in the morning or lunchtime. She got that sad look in her eyes and asked if I was going to miss her performance in the Remembrance Day ceremony at school. I told her that I would be there for sure, and I really meant it. It almost made me cry right there, when I came to the realization that she would want, or even care, for me to be there. It’s things like that, that really get me now. It’s one thing to have your heart filled with love for someone, but to have that returned, even in such a small gesture, means the world to me. I went to bed that night with a great big smile in my heart.

Now it’s Remembrance Day. O got herself up at 6:15 AM, so that she would be prepared for her performance. She was going to be a war widow, with two children, and she sure looked the part. We got them all packed up and took the girls to school, but forgot the camera. After a quick rip home, we get situated in the gymnasium, and await the ceremony. Everyone was getting set up, and some very mournful music was playing. A teacher explained that because of the somber occasion, there was to be no clapping after any performances, and I didn’t think that would be a problem; it’s a bunch of kids doing a Remembrance Day presentation. How good could it be? They don’t even realize the impact that these men made on our country, and the world, so how could they properly portray them in a school tableau vivant. Well, I was wrong again. From the start, it was all I could do to not clap. These kids were very good, and you could tell that they had practiced their parts well. It was so moving to see these little singers, actors and poets up there, giving it their all. I was so proud of them, but what really brought the tears to my eyes, was looking up at that little girl that wanted me to be there. I, of course, held back the flood, but what I really wanted to do, was to run up there and hug her until her ears hurt.

You see, I wasn’t just proud of her up there, I was proud of myself as well. I can’t explain it, but I felt this over-powering sense of self worth. Maybe other step-parents feel that too. I don’t know, but I’d like to hear from you if you do, because I don’t understand it. I didn’t raise these kids, so I can’t take credit for how good they are at anything, how smart they are, or how kind-hearted they are. They were like that before I came along. Maybe it’s because they see something in me that they love, or at least admire? I guess that’s possible; I’m not a psychologist. Well, not a licensed one, anyhow. When I looked over at Mrs. Birdman, taking photos of all the kids and their performances, I felt such deep adoration and respect for her. She was the main influence on those girls, all their lives. Don’t get me wrong. Their father is a great guy, and a great dad, but dads work a lot, and the moms are usually the ones who spend the most time with the kids. They are two well-raised girls, despite me, so I guess it’s just the phenomenon of step-parenting that gives me that amazing, fulfilled feeling. I thought that my life was complete with Mrs. B, but you add those two little sweethearts into the mix, and my cup runneth over for sure.

After the presentation at the school, we went to the cenotaph in Colborne, and remembered with a healthy gathering of townsfolk. Other than one lady that answered her phone during the two minutes of silence, it was a good ceremony, and there were many wreaths lain in memory. I feel great pride in my country, my fellow man, and myself on Remembrance Day. It’s not that I don’t feel that way every day, but that’s the one day, that no one asks what’s wrong while you are standing in the middle of a park with tears running down your face. I worry that the meaning will get lost on our young, as our parents probably worried about us, but I think if we continue to teach the importance of freedom to our children, they will remember, as we remember. At least I hope they do.

I’ll never forget,

Birdman

Nov 11

I remember this

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,

Birdman