I have been away from the keys of my computer for a little while. Various unforeseen things have crossed my bow recently, unfortunately diverting my attention away from spinning a yarn or two.
Today’s blog is a hybrid of sorts. Travel, photography and a bit of soul bearing, all woven together to make this week’s instalment different again. Two weeks ago we had the rare pleasure of having 3 of our four sons together in one place. With their busy lives, it is a rare occasion indeed. We certainly enjoyed our weekend and at its culmination we jumped in the car with the boys so we could drive one of them back to work for a Monday morning start.
Sunday afternoon was grey & dull, but given the disastrous atmosphere we were enduring due to the horrific forest fires in BC we were never expecting a sunny blue sky drive. We travelled Northward up Vancouver Island on the inland highway and reached Comox later in the afternoon. Leaving the boys for a bit of bro-time together we went to grab a drink and wander around a few stores. Not too long after we got to our first stop my phone rang and it was Angus calling to say that if we hurried I could see the volunteers at the aircraft museum move a historical plane from the airfield to the hanger.
I am a vintage aircraft buff and to be more specific I am fascinated by WWII commonwealth fighters and bombers. I have been very lucky over the years to visit numerous museums in many countries dedicated to my passion. My fascination began as a toddler growing up in the UK. My mom’s father was a firefighter in London during the Blitz and my mom and grandma had lived alone in the north of the country while he worked tirelessly down south. My grandfather rarely got leave so it was tough for the family on so many fronts.
My mom told me stories about the air-raid shelter at the back of their garden and how they wouldn’t have much time after the siren blared to leave their home and get in safely before the Luftwaffe flew overhead.
As a young boy in the early 70’s (make love not war) these stories didn’t seem real but even back then I could still tell that my mom remained haunted by those times in her life. Mom told me one story about racing to the air-raid shelter for safety that has always stuck with me. On that particular day she recounted looking up to see a squadron of Spitfire fighter planes flying in the opposite direction of the German bombers, thus suggesting they were on their way towards the North Sea.
Mom went on to tell me that she remembered she and my grandma sitting in silence for hours until the all clear was sounded. Through those dark lonely hours neither felt the percussion of a single fallen German bomb. That rare occasion stuck with my mom for years. It doesn’t take a detective (haha) to deduce that on that day those brave spitfire pilots where able to engage the enemy before they reached the shores of Britain and as such none of them were able to carry out their duty on behalf of the German war machine.
That story has clearly stayed with me for over 45 years. It is that story that began my infatuation with those airplanes, the RAF and later the RCAF. I have built all the models and I have painted their fuselages to replicate the days they took to the skies with regularity. I strung them from bedroom ceilings in precarious dogfighting positions and put them on my shelves if their weight was to great for the thread.
So back to the phone call from Angus. He seemed excited and he told us to hurry as he did not know how long they would leave the plane out of the hanger. We got there in short order and we hustled to the airfield. There it stood. I could not believe my eyes. I was not expecting anything like what I was staring at just a few yards in front of me. It was at that point, or there or there a-bouts that a kind older gentleman from the historical society wandered over to encourage me to approach her and have a good look. He told me to touch her and climb up aboard a wing to get a good look in the cockpit.
He didn’t have to tell me twice and I moved towards her as fast as I could. I ran my hand along the fuselage and in doing so felt the paint work and rivets. I inspected the prop and the undercarriage to get a close up of the landing gear and the tires. I made a mental note of the pilots name inscribed near the cockpit before I climbed up to peer inside. I have seen them displayed in parts at various flight and war museums but to see a fully intact airplane and its controls was a thrill. I snapped a few images for posterity and climbed down.
I asked Angus to take my picture with her so I apologize if a pseudo shameful selfie makes its way on to this page. Job done and stepped back to stare. Eventually the gentlemen from the society asked for us all to move back to the fence so they could hook it up by the tail gear and start the process of towing her into the hanger.
It was at this time my emotions got the best of me and I couldn’t stop the tears. It was now that I realized this wasn’t me meeting my boyhood hero, this was my boyhood hero reminding me of why it was what it was. I have not cried for well over 28 years. My job has left me for the most part devoid of the ability to properly cope with grief. In the last five years I have lost both parents to illness and neither time and not until that day have I ever been able to shed tears. I have dealt with both natural and unnatural death countless times at work. I have become desensitized on purpose. Even as I stood at the podium delivering eulogies for my dad and later my mom I could not release my paralyzing grief and I could never properly move on.
That day on that airfield that Spitfire spoke to me in its own special way. That Spitfire reminded me that my hero was now and had always been my mom and today was the day I could let her go. Without her stories, love and attention I would be a much dimmer man. Most who know me are now thinking that could not be humanly possible. You could be right? Take it from me, its right and proper to grieve and it’s a blessing to have heroes.
Thanks for the day Angus! And thanks for the hug Allistair!
Miss you mom.