Well doesn’t that beat all…Johnny Baker an ordinary bush plane pilot fromNorthern Ontario havin’ the government folks from Ottawa knockin’ on my door. “Mr. Baker what’s your secret for livin’ a long life?” That’s one question that plum wears a fella out after a while. I know what I’d like to tell them, smoke like a chimney, drink like a fish and make as much whoopee just as long as the workins are a workin’. But I’m Johnny Baker, the kind old gentleman that I am and don’t tell them that kinda stuff and besides all that drinkin’ and smokin’ was before I got religion.
I pondered a spell…before tellin’ these government men my secret to livin’ a long life. Mostly a fella best watch what he’s sayin’. We’ve all heard many of the well-meaning spoutin’ off before they get their minds in gear. “I think I’m catching a cold. I feel the flu comin’ on. My arthritis gets to actin’ up whenever there’s a change in the weather. Everybody in my family died before they were 70.” That kind of talk is sure to have you pushin’ up daisies before you’re even eighty. I say if you be treatin’ people the way you would like to be treated and don’t be belly-achin’ about every little ache or pain, it’ll go a long way in seein’ you live a long life.
I figured these government fella’s had more on their minds than studyin’ my longevity although I couldn’t remember for the life of me fallin’ into arrears on my income tax. Something important must surely be a brewin’. These fellas tipped their hats extendin’ their greetings on behalf of the Prime Minister tellin’ me I was the oldest Canadian survivor of WWII. Bein a lot of folks have taken to listenin’ to my radio show on the Northern Hoot Wireless Network they wanted me to give a speech on Remembrance Day, broadcastin’ live from Ottawa. I gotta tell you folks I was humbled to no end. They were sayin’ that bein’ it was the 100th anniversary commemoratin’ WWI they were plannin’ the biggest dog-gone celebration honourin’ the war veterans this country has ever seen…television, a big splash in the newspaper, a holiday for the youngsters and a big hoopla in the Capitol. The Governor General and all the government big wigs would be puttin’ in an appearance; even Queen Lizzy was plannin’ a tour of the Commonwealth and might show up. Figure that one; she’s pretty near as old as I am and could pass on to glory crossin’ the ocean on that big ship of hers. They’d have to move the entire shindig to the Old Country to be puttin’ the dear lady to rest.
These two fellas got to askin’ me about the war and what went on overseas—not somethin’ many of us feel comfortable talkin’ about. A lot of folks figured I was some kind of a hero or somethin’ for joinin’ up to serve my country. The truth of the matter was I was sick of stackin’ firewood, tendin’ to the garden, and havin’ to go to school. Then there was the two dollars and ten cents a day they were payin’ new recruits and Mary- Lou from Bruce Mines who told me she was crazy about soldier boys in uniform. Oh Mary-Lou, I’m not likely to forget that summer afternoon in the hay loft when all the cows were a moo-in’ —but that’s another story for another day.
I was polite and all, at least that’s the face I put on, figurin’ I better act respectable or I’d be givin’ older folks a bad name. They tell me the Prime Minister would be waitin’ for my reply. Well after a week or so went by and bein’ I’m at the age when every mornin’ if I wake up I pinch myself…I figured I better be lettin’ them know sooner rather than later. I got my great-grandson to send off a message on his electronic letter sendin’ device.
Dear Mr. Prime Minister:
I wish to thank you for your kind offer and after much consideration I gratefully accept. I promise to keep my remarks brief; being there will be a whole lot of government folks giving speeches that will go on and on and on. I drafted a copy of my remarks which my great-grandson has attached for your consideration.
This Remembrance Day Ceremony is not about those of us who survived the war but the ultimate sacrifice made by young Canadian men and women who never made it home. Many of them were medics, nurses, and Chaplin’s who never carried a rifle who willingly laid down their lives. They were the heroes who carried the wounded across the battlefield, wiped the brow of an injured soldier and bent low over a dying warrior to utter a final prayer. It’s a tribute to those who are immortalized by a field of crosses in Flanders—their courage, their self-sacrifice, their duty to country, so the rest of us could raise our families and live in peace and harmony.
People were saying when the first war ended in 1919 it was the war to end all wars. We thought that after the suffering experienced by so many, that folks from around the world would surely wake up and say—never again. History continues to prove us wrong…time and time again. I am sure of this—that if all the young men and women who sacrificed their lives were to come back to life they would have us think long and hard before putting our troops in harm’s way. The graves we see before us are their testimony appealing for tolerance and understanding that we might set the world on a new path of peace—A path that begins with trying to understand the other fella.
But how can we stand by when we find ourselves facing an enemy that has no regard for its own people with an agenda of death and destruction that publicly executes civilians. This is the conflict that wages war in my soul…because I surely believe that peace begins right at home in our community and with our own family. Peace, my dear friends, begins with me.
From Ottawa—this is Johnny Baker signin’ off.