Coming from Canada to France, we as North Americans, are a unique culture in that our men and women left our shores to fight for freedom of foreign lands, and ultimately for all of us. The majority of us across the pond have never seen the true ravages of war with our own eyes, so we can not even comprehend the damage it does to the non-soldiers.
After they came home, some veterans could tell their stories and lead forward, productive lives. Others just barely survived and said nothing. Some couldn’t get help to excise the guns and ghosts in their heads, so they removed themselves from this lifetime. My most favorite Uncle, Albert, was my Grandmother’s much younger brother. He landed on Juno Beach with the other 14,000+ Canadians, as a part of the 150,000 allied soldiers prepared to fight the occupying forces. It was midnight on June 6, 1944 at Bernières-sur-Mer, on Juno Beach. He never did talk about his experiences much but there was something about him that was different than the other men that were on the farm. They were too young or too old for fighting Nazis. Whatever PTSD he had suffered, he shed that skin long before I was born.
Uncle Albert would wear his uniform every so often and I loved to sit beside him and stare at all the colorful pins and shiny buttons on his lapels. There was a lightness of spirit about him that I was drawn to, and often he would spend a few minutes chatting with me about dogs, coloring books, and dinner. Our bond was that both of us were the youngest child in a big family. He was a very little boy in the old country when my Grandmother left for Canada. She was in her early 20’s and sailing off to be married to my Grandfather. A man she had never met.
My great uncle never seemed very old to me but definitely very mischievous. He always had kindness for me In the rare occasions he joined in family gatherings. In a very big family like mine, the little ones are either spoiled or forgotten. He always made sure I never felt forgotten when he was around. He had 2 children of his own and a lovely wife and still had enough extra hugs and smiles for me. While the aunties and grandmas were cooking, he would often pop in to the kitchen to escape the testosterone soaked conversation of the male clan members. Much like the other uncles, my mothers brothers, sneaking a few raw beans from the pot or to tease my grandmother about something, like little brothers do. He might have been in his late 40s back then but still playful boy at heart. PTSD left somewhere back in a convalescent station in France I suspect.
Skipping ahead a few decades and children later ... I arrived in France shortly after Charlie Hebdo but early enough to experience the direct fallout from Bataclan and the subsequent , high alert year throughout France that accompanied it. I never for a moment, compared it to the 1944 landings on D Day, but it did give me a view of empathy that had previously only been my own perspective. This, my first year in Paris area, was very tense. I was left alone to navigate my way in a foreign land with only scant language skills, and an undercurrent of living in a constant state of possible terror attacks. Technically not the first time to live that experience but at this stage, I had hoped I had retired from the wars and violent dictators with them.
Fast forward another year... and I was buying the property in Cap Ferret. A complete 180 degree change from Paris. It did however come with 70 year old unexploded WW2 shells on the local beach. Paths you can not set foot on just in case an unexploded and eroded shell unearths itself, and you step off the path. Abandoned concrete German bunkers being swallowed up by the shifting sands of the Cap Ferret beach. 15 km of brown sugar sand scarred by pockmarked graffiti’d gun turrets poking up every 400 meters or so. Every tiny village in the area where I lived, proudly flies a Canadian flag beside its French flags. Some days just going to the grocery store was an experience to remember.
(This Next bit is a combination of many stories however, I’ve edited for this short form, but you get the drift of what I am saying.)
The cashier asked where I was from, Canada I replied. A brief discussion of Canadians arriving in SW France and how his grandfather was saved by a Canadian soldier from the Nazis on that road, just over there, or how that lady just sold her house. Her mother had made herb tea for a few Canadian soldiers when they were on patrol after they had liberated the area. One of them repaired the gate right there before he left. My uncle didn’t land in Cap Ferret, but when the older ones, the ones that remember, they understand he had landed at Juno, often they shake my hand and the tears come. They pointedly reminded me that men and women like my uncle, left their farms and jobs in Canada, Australia, United States, Africa, and India. They traveled to travel to France to put themselves between the French people and the German guns. People just like my Uncle are the reason this dear French soul lived or that one was born to Grow up and meet me and stand here shaking my hand. Certainly puts things into perspective. They don’t forget you know. The scars are everywhere here. Even some buildings still carry the scars. To those of us in our safe little North American bubble, where war has only scraped the surface of our population. We don’t have the bombed out buildings that were abandoned and never repaired, or the thick swath of bullet holes on the side of a centuries old church To remind us. We must remember it is still fresh here and the reminders are everywhere. Had it been up to the Nazis, entire races would have been rendered extinct.
”We must never forget how close we came to a world without the beauty of diversity.“— Cole Grey #unfrenchcole
Jusqu'à ce que nous nous revoyions ... 💋