My Defining Canadian Moment is:
By: Carolyn Vasco, Cambridge, Ontario
I will remember Saturday, November 11th, 2006 always, not so much for the Remembrance Day Ceremony, but for what unfolded immediately after.
The evening prior had impressed our twelve-year old son as we had driven by the local cenotaph at a very late hour and witnessed the young cadets standing at attention. I explained the twenty-four hour vigil, commenting on their commitment to honour those who’d served our country. “But it’s so cold!” our son exclaimed.
We reminded him of the wretched conditions our soldiers endured throughout every war they’d fought in. He had shuddered as he shoved himself deeper into his own jacket, lost in thought.
Remembrance Day morning was damp, cold, and miserable as my husband, our son and I watched the annual event. We shivered as we watched the many elderly soldiers march towards the cenotaph, and wondered what horrific memories they held behind their solemn masks.
The bagpipes droned, and as the mist turned into large steady drops of rain, we marveled that these now frail former servicemen and women maintained their stiff stance. One gentleman in particular caught our attention as he sat erect, unflinching in his wheelchair, until the horn began its mournful wail, when his gloved hand swept across his face.
We silently wondered if it was tears or raindrops he was brushing away.
Following the ceremony, we joined my husband’s parents to take them for lunch. As we were seated at the restaurant, we saw a veteran sitting with his wife. “I think war vets should eat free on Remembrance Day,” I commented.
My son looked thoughtful, then began to dig into his pocket. He withdrew his wallet, and dumped the collection of loonies, quarters, nickels and dimes on to the table. “I’m buying his lunch!” he declared. “Do you think I have enough?” he asked worriedly. “You have enough, believe me,” I answered, knowing we would ensure he did.
His grandparents looked flabbergasted, and when our server came to our table, we asked if he could advise us how much the gentleman’s lunch would amount to. Our waiter, whose nametag identified him as “Michael” looked puzzled. “Which gentleman?” he asked.
“The war veteran in his suit, with his medals on his chest, sitting across the room with the lady,” we advised.
Michael saw him and smiled. “Do you know him?” he queried.
”No”, we admitted, “Not at all.” “But he’s a war veteran and I want to say thank you,” my son added. Now it was Michael’s turn to look thunderstruck. He promised to find out how much the lunch bill would be, and returned moments later, grinning ear to ear.
He advised us of the amount and watched as our son carefully counted out his change, ignoring our assurances that he had enough. Once he was certain, he proudly – and with relief – stated that he could indeed pay for this stranger’s lunch. Michael asked if our son would like to go over to introduce himself and tell this veteran of his generous gesture, which he quickly refused, suddenly shy and embarrassed. “At least let me tell him your name!” Michael implored. “It’s Jordan,” I replied.
The gentleman was seated with his back to us, so we quietly went on with our lunch, each of us silently bursting with pride over Jordan’s actions. We tried not to stare as our waiter went to his table, a large grin on his face, obviously pleased to be a part of this goodwill gesture. We smiled as his wife nodded over to us, but we were determined not to make a fuss to avoid embarrassing anyone.
Before making their exit, the gentleman made his way to the table. He stretched out his hand toward my husband, “Jordan, I want to thank you sincerely – this has never in my lifetime happened to me before,” he said. He introduced himself, stating that he served aboard the HMS Saskatchewan in the 1940’s. My husband grasped his hand, but advised him that he was not Jordan, and turned to our son.
The veteran’s eyes widened in surprise, and after a moment reached for his hand. “How old are you, son?” Jordan answered, “Twelve, sir. And thank you for serving in the war for us,” Jordan said solemnly. The man looked thoughtful for a moment, warmly expressing his appreciation before he became too choked up to speak.
His wife stopped by our table to advise us that this lunch was something neither of them would ever forget. We agreed. Our waiter stood by, smiling broadly, before advising that he was so proud, he was buying our son’s lunch!
I don’t know how it happened, but somehow it began raining inside that restaurant, because there were a lot of fat droplets of rain being wiped off of everyone’s cheeks that afternoon, on Remembrance Day 2006.
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