It's Memorial Day (where is the Met Mile? OK, I should get over this by now) in the U.S., and whether it be Memorial Day or Remembrance Day, I often think of an old family friend, Mr. Burns.
Mr. Burns was in the bomber squadron of the RCAF, flying missions over Europe. This was probably the toughest job in the war, because so many of them didn't make it back; these planes were sitting ducks. It was the absolute short straw. He was shot down a couple of times, and somehow made it back safely across the pond, back home.
I guess getting shot down and seeing friends not make it home makes a man pretty tough and devoid of giving a shit, and Mr. Burns was certainly that. In fact, how he met the family tends to exemplify that quite well.
My dad started coaching 16 and 17 year olds in juvenile hockey, and his rather sad sack team made the playoffs. In the first round they were playing the best team in the league and they beat them in seven. Mr. Burns' boy played for the losing squad and after the game he tracked my old man down.
"Can my son play for you next year?" he asked. My dad replied that he watched his boy play and he was a hard worker and hard workers are welcome.
Just then the opposing coach came out of the dressing room, overheard the conversation and asked Mr. Burns why he was looking for a new team for his son.
Mr. Burns, in his complete don't care, I-was-shot-down-a-bunch-of-times-over-Europe way says, "Well, we had a team of stars that were way better than the team we just lost to. The only sensible conclusion I can make is that we were badly outcoached."
The man was a legend.
Years later, I am heading to lunch at school and Mr. Burns showed up waiting for me. "Come on kid, it's your birthday and you have the afternoon off."
Little did I know where we were going, but soon it was clear.
"It's hunting season and it's time you had your own gun," he said a matter of factly.
He purchased me a beginner rifle - single shot, bolt action - and we went out to teach me to use it. It was a glorious afternoon.
Upon returning home, I walked in with my new rifle, much to my mother's chagrin.
"You bought him a rifle?" she said.
"He has to learn to shoot, he's plenty old enough," he replied.
"Angus, he's 9!", my incredulous mom exclaimed.
From then on we went out quite a bit, and each time it was an adventure.
One of his friends owned a small bush plane and he took us up to a fishing spot for the weekend. But the flight was horrendous, due to massive winds. We were bouncing around like a pinball. Looking back in my mind's eye, it was the worst plane ride I have ever been on, times a million.
From the front seat all I heard was "this is a great flight" followed by a story that this was nothing like taking flak, and the fishing would be good. I wasn't worried a bit.
His toughness was completely remarkable, and for a kid, it was a pretty good life lesson.
One time we were fishing and he cut himself on the boat, which required stitches. The only problem was the nearest doctor was about three hours away. We got back to camp, he broke out a bottle of iodine, drank like five ounces of rum and stitched himself up. He seriously didn't even wince. I never tried this in life - I went to doctors like a normal person - but I was sure it could be done, because, well, he did it.
This long friendship lasted through trips just about everywhere (Mr. Burns accompanied us to road trips to almost every racetrack in Ontario), and mostly good cheer until he passed away in the 1990's.
This Memorial Day when we play the races or do what we do (I work mainly in the U.S. so it's kind of a day off for me too), I will remember Mr. Burns and this completely unique generation. With people like him Hitler never had a chance.
Enjoy your holiday everyone.