Thursday, December 8, 2011

11:11, 11/11, '11

Plaque commemorating The Canadian/USA Commando unit, the" Devil's Brigade" in Menton

Remembrance Day or Armistice Day as it is known in France, has come and gone.  If you take out your calculator or if you have a head for mathematics,  you'll soon realise that veterans of World War II are gradually becoming extinct.

While I was roaming around down town Menton on November 11 looking for an Armistice Day ceremony to attend and have a good sniffle,  I had some time to reflect on a man I once met named Gerald...

It was because of cakes and pies that our paths crossed. You see, when Auntie visits Canada in the summer, once a week I guide a three hour baking group at the local seniors' residence.  My bakers are mostly women aged 50 to 102 and every week we bake something different and delicious followed by tea in china cups while we chat and fold crisp linen napkins into pretty shapes.

Gee, Nothing about Armistice Day in the German Papers
One of my bakers was Gerald and Gerald was a World War II veteran.  He was 16 when he joined the military.

I loved it when Gerald joined our baking group.  He was the sole rooster amongst us hens but I think he may have liked it that way.  He was quite the charming ladies' man in his day.  He would often regale us with compelling and amusing stories about his many war time exploits.  One of my favourite stories of his was about the time he went skinny dipping in the Thames and another when he danced his heart out in London with on D-Day when the war ended.

I admired Gerald's sense of duty, patriotism for Canada and above all, his youthful disregard for the dangers he would be facing.  He wanted to have a grand adventure and if you ever were lucky enough to hear his stories, he did.  He never spoke of battles, the horrors of the war or ugly memories that would be natural for a soldier in battle. 

In his later years, Gerald suffered a stroke and he often had trouble with his memory.  Every week he showed me his photo album as though it was the first time he was showing it to me but I didn't mind.  It was filled with his cherished memories and photos of his reunion with his fellow veterans of Juno beach.  

Sadly, Gerald passed away last winter and the baking group seems a bit quiet without him.
It's Armistice Day!  Let's go Shopping!

I was thinking about Gerald when I was roaming the streets of Menton, looking for a Remembrance Day ceremony which I never found.  You'd never have guessed it was Remembrance Day because everywhere you looked it was business as usual. Small children were riding on the carousel, an antiques market in main square was doing a roaring business and many of the shops were opened despite the solemnity of the day.  Even the many international newspapers at the news stand seemed to overlook it.

I couldn't help seeing the irony of it all:  brave men and women selflessly  defend us so we can eventually forget about war and instead enjoy frivolous things like shopping for sweaters and shoes, eating ice cream and riding on carousels. 

Thank you Gerald, the hens and I miss you..