Today, the seventy-ninth anniversary of the D-Day invasion, I can’t but think of one of my most iconic conversations with my late, great, darling Auntie Pat. It was in 2019, on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the day. Pat was approaching her ninety-sixth birthday, Donald Trump was the President of the United States, and the specter of lockdowns, shutdowns, months and months of isolation, mandatory vaccinations and snitching on–and turning in–one’s family and dearest friends to earn style points on the wokeness compliance scale, weren’t even on the radar.
What follows is the post I wrote on that day:
I just got off the phone with her and–shameless self-promotion alert–she’ll be 96 next month, and is my Dad’s last surviving sibling. I phoned her because yesterday was the 75th anniversary of the day Dad happened to the Pope (another one). I had in mind to ask her about something else, and as a result was taping the conversation (as she knows I sometimes do). And in the course of our chat, she mentioned that she’d been enjoying the D-Day commemorative exercises on the television, and that Donald Trump had been visiting the UK.
“Oh, yes,” I said. And he seems to have done pretty well, don’t you think?” And here’s how it went from there:
Auntie Pat: Well, yes. Except for those stupid people stomping about waving things. Makes me furious, because, you know, they’re all sitting pretty because of the fact that America came into the war. If it hadn’t been for the Americans, we shouldn’t be here.
Auntie Pat: Well, it’s true.
She: Yes, I know.
Auntie Pat: We had not enough troops. I mean, there’s no argument about it. It makes me very cross. I mean, here’s the elected member of the, umm, society, and so he should be treated with respect. He may say stupid things sometimes, but he read quite a nice thing actually, which was quite good, and he did very well, and he’s coming home tomorrow, isn’t he?
Auntie Pat was 20 on 6 June 1944, and what she has to say about that, and everything else, is always worth listening to. I wish there was a way to bottle her and keep her, and her memories, with us forever. (I’m doing my best here, thanks for bearing with me.)
Like many baby boomers, I grew up in the shadow of the greatest generation, with first hand accounts not only from the troops, but also of what it was like when every member of the population on the home front actually was “war-weary” and suffering privation of one sort or another along with them. It wasn’t an occasional, or a particular, or an incidental, or a boutique war which affected only those intimately involved with it. It was a monumental, existential, all-encompassing, shattering grind. I’ve always thought that one of Pat’s most cogent and heart-rending comments (sorry, yet another one, I’ve been here almost nine years, and I’m extraordinarily verbally facile) was that the ten years of continued rationing in the almost-destroyed Britain after the war was over was even worse than the war itself–“Well, you see,” she said, “there was no point. After all, we’d already won. Nothing we did helped or make a difference any more. It was just a miserable slog.”
Yet it was a miserable slog they embraced and survived. As you do. Or as you used to. When people believed that the world revolved around something other than themselves, and that even though they couldn’t see the point right then, perhaps there was one after all.
And so, here I am to make it for her.
United States of America, Auntie Pat thanks you.
And so do I.