An Unexpected Hero

Heroes come in all different shapes and sizes. The one I remember every November 11 is my Great Grandma Elsie.

I had the privilege to grow up knowing this remarkable lady. She lived in a tiny house (way before tiny houses were cool) in my Grandparent’s back yard. Elsie loved birds and always had a budgie for company. Her birds changed every few years, but were always named Joey. Elsie was quiet and kind and every once in a while could be coaxed into tell us stories of her youth. Orphaned at 11 years old, Elsie was shipped to Canada to live with distant cousins in a small town in Saskatchewan. She grew up quickly and when she was 16 years old, two local lads had a horse and buggy race to determine which one would get to propose to her. After great grandpa won the race, they married in a small church and headed out West to begin a family.

Great Grandma Elsie is an unlikely hero. If she were here today she would be the first to pish-posh such an idea. She would claim she didn’t do much at all.  She didn’t serve in the armed forces. She didn’t work as a WAC or in a factory like Rosie the Riveter. She just stayed home and sent her men off to war. Not much heroic about that on the surface.

But every Remembrance Day Elsie would sit in front of her 10 inch black and white TV with the tinfoil on the antennas and watch the Service at the Cenotaph in Ottawa. And she would cry. Not a misty kind of stoic British, stiff upper lip kind of cry either. Elsie would weep openly, clutching her handkerchief in her small trembling fist, as the leaders of the day would pay tribute to the brave men and women who gave of themselves for this country of ours.

You see, Elsie stayed home, kept the home fires burning, hung the laundry on the line and rationed sugar and gasoline. Elsie waved goodbye to her sons as they pulled away from the train station heading to faraway places to fight for our freedom. And Elsie waited. For years she kept watch, praying and hoping her sons would come home safe and whole. And one by one they did.

Except her youngest. Her baby. He served as a tail gunner in a plane that was shot out of the sky. The section of plane he was in was blown separate from the rest, ending up scattered miles away. Listed as Missing In Action, Elsie’s baby boy never came home.

Decades later, Elsie still grieved the loss of her son. As a young girl I didn’t quite understand why Great Grandma was so sad, but now that I am a mother I cannot begin to comprehend the courage it took for her to carry on. When did she stop waiting for word that he had been found? When did she give up hope? And every year as she watched the wreath being placed on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, did she wonder if that was the final resting place of her youngest son?

Elsie’s grief was a lifelong battle. She fought with courage and survived. Grandma Elsie left us just after her 96th birthday. During those many decades she lived after losing her boy, she bore a burden of grief and loss that most of us will thankfully, never have to fathom.

So I remember Elsie and her amazing courage.

And I remember my lost Uncle, whom I never had a chance to meet, and the other brave souls who have fought and died to protect our way of life. Because of them we enjoy the freedom to think, speak, worship, and live as we choose. These men and women of the Armed Forces continue to fight for us, and are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect our peace.

This Remembrance Day citizens will gather to salute these men and women, some of whom paid the ultimate price. I will join them, giving thanks to the soldiers for their bravery, and to the families they left behind, for their sacrifice.

Lest We Forget.

The Ode of Remembrance

by Laurence Binyon

They went with songs to the battle, they were young. Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow. They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted, They fell with their faces to the foe. They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them


My grandfather walking with my mom, circa WWII
My grandfather walking with my mom, circa WWII

 Originally published in e-Know