“My famous friends” – Another great memory shared by Graeme Decarie

I am pleased to share with you this recent message from Graeme Decarie:

My famous friends …

Graeme Decarie - 1962-63 Malcolm Campbell High School yearbook

Graeme Decarie . Source: Malcolm Campbell High School 1962-63 yearbook

Just to let you know that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were not the only aristocracy of my social circle, here is the tale of my meeting with Field Marshal Earl Alexander of Tunis, commander of Imperial Forces in Italy, then in North Africa, then in Italy. And then governor general of Canada.

It was a Sunday, and he was visiting Camp Tamaracouta. On Sundays, there was a service in an open air chapel across the lake. The Congregation was seated on pine logs. Just in front of the first log bench was me, the organist at a portable pump organ, and the cutest 13 year old you ever saw. I was assistant leader of a camp site for boy scouts from Chinatown in Montreal.

All were seated. Then Field Marshal Earl Alexander and his entourage entered, resplendent in medals and ribbons. And, to my horror, he took his seat no more than three feet from me.

All went well until the last hymn. As I began the intro, a massive bumble bee flew to hover over my fingers. I was terrified for all four or five verses. But I valiantly played on.

The hymn finished. But I still had to play on as people stood to leave, and that bee still buzzed over my fingers, with an occasional dash for my nose.

It was then I became aware that someone was standing beside me. I looked – first at the khaki trousers, then up to the immaculate military jacket, the Sam Browne belt, the rainbow of medals and ribbons, and up into the face of Field Marshal Earl Alexander of Tunis.

He smiled at me, then stood rigidly to attention, raised his hand to his forehead in salute. And I heard him say, “Splendid chap. Splendid.”


[End of text from Graeme Decarie]


1 reply
  1. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    The story about discipline and focus in the face of adversity is most inspiring, Graeme. I much admire the skill and talent that is evident in your storytelling. It is wonderful to encounter a great storyteller, which is the category that I believe you are a member of.

    I much enjoy stories. Recently, I was involved in the organizing of, and being a presenter at, an evening Community Storytelling Panel – with a temporary stage, a great sound system, and young musicians performing (on violin and a drum) between speakers – dealing with local history at the community where I have lived with my family for the past twenty years.

    The event took place at an empty lot on the main street in the community. The main street had originated, during some previous thousands of years, at a time when a great forest covered the area, as a First Nations trail, which at all times was within a view of the shoreline of Lake Ontario.

    The Storytelling Panel was the culminating event in an all-day festival in Long Branch, in south Etobicoke in Toronto, where I live. I write a lot about Long Branch history at my website, and people contact me from across Canada to add details about the local history narratives from the past century. I’ve learned things, and met people, that I’ve never imagined I would meet – all of this as a result of an interest in the local stories.

    Across the street during the day of the festival, cars from the 1920 of 1930s, up until about the 1960s, were lined up one behind the other, where people could stop to admire them. I has such a great time, looking closely at the cars, and taking photos of details such as steering wheels, dashboards, rear view mirrors, bumpers, and everything else. Do you remember the triangular windows, that many 1960s cars had? All those details brought to mind the physical sensation of being behind the wheel of a car in the 1960s.

    One summer when I worked as a doorman at the Banff Springs Hotel, in the Canadian Rockies, at times doormen were given the responsibility of driving a car to some location for parking. Occasionally, we would take a car, and on the way to the parking lot, would take it for a brief spin around the golf course. A new 1960s car, as I recall, had a smooth ride and was a delight to drive. The sound of the engine, the feel of the hands on the steering wheel, the comfortable seats.

    All those things are firmly implanted in my memory – both at the level of visual memories, but also memories of sounds and memories of physical sensations. That plus the words and gestures of kindness, that I encountered, at moments of rough sailing in my earlier days, that went straight to me heart, are the things that have stayed firmly with me.

    Other details of life have often faded; I’ve never had a photographic memory, as some of my friends possess, but the details that have to do with 1960s cars – even the memory of the music and patter on the car radio – are all things, along with other bits and pieces of vignettes from here and there, that have stayed quite strongly in my memory.

    So, all of this is a preamble to a story that came to mind with regard to the buzzing bee. When we had arrived in Canada, in the spring of 1951, on a boat called the Gripsholm, which travelled from Gotenberg (there are varied spellings for this city) in Sweden, arriving in Halifax, we eventually made our way by train to Montreal. We would have ended up in Toronto; that was our original destination, but my Mommy, at that time in her early thirties, stopped at the Montreal railway station. She had a short amount of time to look around. She saw horse poop on the streets! She was enthralled. She saw the caleche carts (who know how to spell that, who knows where the accents go), and she said (in Estonian), “OMG, this is just like Europe! We gotta stay here!” She talked with my Pop, as we called him, and he said (in Estonian), “Yeah, let’s get off the train.” So we got off the train, and settled in Montreal.

    So, my journey of a thousand miles, which ended up with my journey to Malcolm Campbell High School, did begin with horse poop on the road.


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