It’s usually around this time of year when I have some tears for my Gramps. I don’t know how he’d feel, me writing that in front of everybody (hell, I’m not so sure about it myself!) But I miss him a lot – even though it’s been six years. Gramps (you can call him Tom) was very straightforward and had a very distinctive, very happy laugh. His handshake was super-firm, and he had the best hugs for his grandkids. He drove a Ford Thunderbird that was like a living room, and he and Nana had a barn and kittens and a garden. When I was younger, his service in the Second World War was something we didn’t ask about, and like many of his generation, he didn’t divulge. But later on, me, my husband and my sisters asked if we could audio record him talking about his life, and he did. I’m very grateful to have this information:
Gramps signed up for the Navy in 1942 because Prairie boys made the best sailors (the reason when we asked why). For three years, he served as an Able Seaman in the Canadian Navy, on the HMCS Eastview during the Battle of the North Atlantic. He made a total of 17 crossings as part of a convoy that provided safe escort for the merchant ships carrying more troops and supplies. There’s a picture that us grandkids, especially get a kick out of – there’s Gramps, holding a gun on deck. He was the quartermaster, and would ensure that when the Eastview was at port, everyone who was supposed to come aboard did so, and those who weren’t – well, they weren’t allowed on.
I can picture him as he described, on a hammock, suspended high above the ocean as the ship keeled back and forth during the trip back home after Normandy, and in times before that, in the middle of the night, releasing depth charges because there was unseen danger in the water. He did that for 15 hours straight once. But you know what he also described? How many shades of green he saw in Ireland’s hills – a beauty that betrayed the danger of the Irish Sea, with its strong undercurrent where enemy subs could hide.
When the war was over, he headed straight back to Camrose, Alberta. He and my Nana had met as teenagers – and as the story goes, she was actually on a date with a handsome RCMP officer
when Uncle Drew (as my Dad’s cousin relates), found her at the Bailey Theatre. Nana got up and left the theatre – and her date.
She and Gramps were married 59 years.
Because of some kind of mistake with Veterans Affairs, Gramps didn’t get his medals for decades (and decades!) after his service. He wasn’t mad – he wore them proudly at the Legion and during the Remembrance Day ceremonies at his condo complex.
These veterans, they’re special people. Would you be willing to sign up for what they did? I know my answer isn’t as noble. These are people like us – with hilariously loud laughs, inside jokes, hobbies and heartaches, and families who love them.
There was a reason I chose my words carefully when writing last week about Remembrance Day. I made a point not to use the word cancelled when I talked to Legion president Jean Saul on Friday. Cancelled is not something you say in the same breath as Remembrance Day. It’s observed no matter what. Stay at home. Go for a walk somewhere. Take some time (preferably when it’s not busy) to walk around the Field of Crosses the Legion and the Rotary took the time to set up. If anything can put into perspective what our current struggles are vs those of our war veterans, alive and dead, it’s this year. At 11 o’clock today, take two minutes of silence.
Remembrance Day is not cancelled.