Ever since I was a toddler sitting on the knee of any one of my grandparents, I have always loved to listen to older people, especially those so long in the tooth that, whenever they look at younger companions, they instinctively think “Let me tell you a story”.
Grandad always had a rich tale to tell about his work as a lighterman on the river Thames in London – and it was even richer if he’d just made his way back from a long lunch at his favorite pub. My, how he could weave a picture of life before the Second World War.
Gran, too, was more than capable of keeping my three sisters and me agog with awe at stories of the war itself, such as the time my yet-to-be aunt Dorothy left the couch inside the living-room window bay and sat at the piano on the far side of the room just as a flying bomb landed in the street outside, showering the sofa with shards of the window’s glass. Suck on that one, Hitler!
Gran and Grandad were my mother’s parents. Dad had only his mother, whom we four children differentiated from Mum’s mater by calling her Granny because, generally, her demeanor was far more austere than that of the ever-so-cuddly Gran.
Not that we loved Granny any the less and most certainly not because her stories were any the less riveting – in fact, Granny could keep us spellbound with swashbuckling accounts of life in the upper reaches of Egyptian society, where she had spent much of her early life as the daughter of one and, later, the wife of another English Army officer.
Granny had been chauffeured in fast open-top cars at a time when most people looked on the horseless carriage the way I now look at my Windows 10 computer – utterly befuddled by its technological magnificence and certainly incapable of driving it. Not only that – she spoke Arabic and French!
Could any child hope for a more varied grandparental education?
So here I am, all these years later, beginning to think my time as an awe-struck recipient of yarns of yesteryear must soon give way to the awkward silence that today’s youngsters seem to prefer when, ever so considerately, Veterans’ Day brings a host of storied folks of advancing age from out of the blue.
Regrettably, Dear Reader, we have far too few column inches to bring you every detail of the derring-do recounted by the likes of World War Two B17 bomber pilot Russ Reed and B24 flight commander Roger Brown, both of whom kept me and several other folks last week as we prepared to honor all of their ilk.
For me, that privilege is heightened by the fact that, among these wonderful senior citizens, I can number my father-in-law, to whom I often refer to in your company as an integral part of Ma2D2, being my second dad. He, too, was a WWII bomber pilot and, like those of Russ and Roger, the stories of his flying career are filled with love, laughter and so many other emotions.
Admittedly, whatever their age, the one thing all armed-forces veterans seem to have in common is that rarely do they dwell on the bravery inherent in their actions, but it is the observation of that reticence that reminds me so fondly of my grandparents whenever I settle in for a veteran’s tale.
Having been taught so well to listen keenly and to recognize the hidden nuance, the subtle import, the little wink and the wan gaze, the true sound of the sudden silence, I have had my zest for the magical wonders of vintage yarns by elderly company rekindled in large measure these past few days. Long may it continue.
Ian White is editor of The Post. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.