For some reason, Remembrance Sunday always reminds me of a cold, raw November morning over fifty years ago when I attended my Great-grandfather Bruce’s funeral.
‘I want each of you to remember Bruce as you knew him,’ the minister had said to the scattering of mourners gathered in the church. ‘And for each of you that memory will be different.’
In the silence that followed, I reflected on my Great-grandfather Bruce. He was a quiet man, obscure almost, but with a warm disposition. He had worked conscientiously behind the counter in the local Post Office all his life, and served faithfully in the church every Sunday, but I had a really struggle to find a personal memory of him because we’d never been close. Or had we?
My mind suddenly settled on a long forgotten childhood incident.
He’d pulled me on to his lap. Once again I felt the warmth from his flickering coal fire as it cast shadows around the room, heard the hiss of the boiling kettle, and smelled the rich aroma of tobacco from his pipe. His eyes had twinkled kindly at me when he said, ‘Now why are you worried about getting your tonsils out Joanie?’ He had banged the side of his leg with his cane and the sound of wood against wood filled the tiny room. ‘During the war they told me that if I was brave enough to get my leg off they’d present me with this fine new cane – and they did. Now I reckon if I can have a fine new cane, then you should have something for getting your tonsils out.’
I remember looking up hopefully to the mantle-shelf where he kept his sweetie jar and he had chuckled.
‘Aye. I reckon them there black bullets ‘ll be a pretty good cure for a gob missing its tonsils.’
Snuggling into his waistcoat, which had a smell of tobacco and peppermints about it, I realised I was no longer afraid but was comforted by our united experience of sharing a loss.
Perhaps when ‘we remember them’, every Remembrance Sunday, we should also remember the courageous, comforting and encouraging words spoken by our politicians to the people, officers to their men, doctors and nurses to their wounded patients, and thank God for the power of speech.
Perhaps it is also a timely reminder or how words hurt, wound and even start wars, so to be careful what we say.