my grandpa had a couple of old cigar boxes on the top shelf of his closet. sometimes when he wasn't in his room we'd sneak in to steal toffees or chocolate mints out of one of the boxes, while looking through the medals he kept tucked away in the other. grandpa was a spitfire pilot in the RCAF, and it was impossible to forget this because the basement was full of books, model airplanes, and prints of the single seat fighters. he never talked about the war, and never told us what the medals hidden away in his closet were for. truth be told, grandpa didn't talk much at all and spent most of his days napping, walking the dog, or watching golf in the back room. when i was a very little girl he used to smoke cigars and pipes in the basement, and to this day i think the scent of pipe tobacco is one of the best, and most comforting in the world. while my grandma and her 9 children and their dozens of grandchildren visited, rough housed, and sometimes sang in the front room, grandpa hid out in the back. he was a recovering alcoholic, and i remember that on the rare occasions he would have a drink he became the most belligerent and bigoted old man i'd ever met. he was a product of his generation after all.
one year we were all gathered around celebrating his birthday - there must have been at least 50 of us there because that's how modern day scottish clans roll. everyone gave him spitfire models and sweaters, but one aunt gave him a book of canadian spitfire pilots of the second world war. she stumbled upon it in costco and while leafing through the pages she came across an interview with my grandpa - one none of us knew about, and that he'd forgotten ever even having given. the long and short of the interview was that he'd "shot a lot of those buggers down" and that he'd once been shot down himself, taking shrapnel to the derrière.
like most of the men who fought during the war, my grandpa was a flawed hero. be that as it may, as a man who kept his medals in a box at the back of his closet, he'd never have admitted he was a hero at all anyway.
today is the day we set aside each year to remember. meanwhile the men and women who remain have for the most part spent the decades since the wars trying to suppress the most vivid memories of their lives. fraught with anguish and mourning, more often than pride and honour, these are the memories that have left our heroes scarred and flawed survivors, but our sometimes belligerent, and oftentimes silent family nonetheless. and we thank them.