My great-grandfather died in November of 2002. I was six years old. Back then, my memories of him consisted of simple things. I remember that, after every single Sunday school, my grandfather and my great-grandfather would be sitting in the parking lot, waiting for my cousin and me to come out of the doors. They would have a box of donuts from Tim Hortons with them. I remember scouring all the flavors for my lemon powdered donuts.
Another thing I remember from my great-grandfather is the truck. It is ancient and blue and still sitting in my back yard, though it no longer works. I remember him and my grandfather going to cut wood, and always taking the truck with them. I remember the truck being at Sunday school too. Whenever I would hug my great-grandfather he would smell like sawdust, from the wood he and my grandfather had cut.
A memory that is really big in my mind involves my father too. It was at my great-grandfather's funeral. I remember my dad saying to me "don't you ever forget him". When Dad said this, one thing in particular jumped to the front of my brain. It was the way my great-grandfather said my name. My full name is Breanna, but, when he said it, to me it sounded like "Branna". My memories of my great-grandfather are very few, but whenever I think back on him, I can hear his voice, saying my name, as clearly as if he were standing next to me.
When my great-grandfather passed away, that was all I really thought of him. He was the man that smelled like wood and brought me donuts. I was six, and that was fine with me. As I grew though, I began to learn more about him, from my grandfather. As my grandfather told me about this man who was my great-grandfather, my perspective began to change as the years went by. I had grown up hearing stories about my grandfathers' childhood, and had heard mentions of my great-grandfather there, but an important event in my great-grandfather's life was becoming a soldier.
When I was young, it was hard to imagine the elderly man fighting at all, let alone in World War II. Now, when I think back on it, it is still hard to imagine that the same hands that used to pass me my donuts had also held a gun. My grandfather was very proud of his father for fighting in that War and he passed that pride onto me. All through elementary school, I gave presentations about my great-grandfather. I could trace his exact route from when he was at war on a map. I could list off battles he had been present in. When holding his medals, I could tell you the names of every single one and why he had received it.
It was strange in the beginning, to speak about my great-grandfather this way. This information about the man who had been there in my first years of life was as foreign to me as the kids in my class who were listening to me speaking about him. But, guided by my grandfather, I began to meet the man who was already gone. According to my grandfather, my great-grandfather didn't speak about the war much, and I don't really blame him. Besides, it's not the accomplishments or the great things he did in battle that made him a hero, it was the simple fact he went and fought for people who couldn't fight for themselves
Since learning all of this about my great-grandfather, my view of heroes changed from superheroes to ordinary people who have no superhuman abilities, but have honest courage and the best of hearts. Knowing my great-grandfather was a veteran, and learning what the word truly meant, changed my view of Remembrance Day. When I was little I remember wondering why we were standing out in the cold with red flowers on our shirts. Now, I'm appalled to hear my friend say that her sister doesn't want to bother with a ceremony. The people that fought, and are still fighting, are heroes. They are not asked to be recognized as great, or anything more than just human. We have one day a year to honor their sacrifices and what they gave up so we can have what we do. In my mind, there is no question that, even if it's freezing outside, I'm going to the Remembrance Day Ceremony. While there, I will listen to every word said in remembrance. I will lay a wreath in my great-grandfather's name with my cousins, which will later be taken to his grave. I will wear my poppy with pride.
And I do this because of a man who brought me donuts.
©The Last Letter
This was an essay for my local legion contest in 2011. It was awarded second place.