Mont St. Michel and St. Malo

Mont St. Michel

I promised part two of the Normandy trip post many, many weeks ago …  and I didn’t deliver.  Life’s been busy around here, and as much as my mind has wandered to travels and French villages, I haven’t had the time to pull out the photos or push up to the keyboard.  Today, I’m making the time- part of my determination to start making more time for the things that feed my spirit.  I think we all need that these days.  The news cycle, with floods, fires, earthquakes, evacuations, refugees, federal budget woes, and COVID deaths is overwhelming. We need to tell stories about beautiful places, people we love, and food that makes life worth living– things that, literally and figuratively, feed our souls.  

So here I am.  Stepping up to the microphone to sing a love song to St. Malo.  And Mont St. Michel too.  But, let’s be real, everyone ooohs and aaaahs over Mont St. Michel.  It’s great, it really is amazing, but it’s Mont St Michel of the million and one photos, so you expect it to be great.  St. Malo is lesser known and more rustic.  It’s not overrun with tourists.  You can wander into its ancient walls and believe that you are among the happy few to have discovered the enchanted city. You can believe that if you close your eyes for a catnap on a bench, you may open them to find yourself transported back in time and surrounded by buccaneers.  It feels tinged with the magic of a place less discovered by the world, more authentically itself. 

Mont St. Michel

I loved Mont St Michel, don’t get me wrong.  It was gorgeous and somehow both unbelievably majestic and vulnerable: set out on its solitary island, proud and alone. 

We went off-season, on a chilly day, but it was still quite peopled.  I can imagine that during tourist season it’s shoulder to shoulder, which is just no way to see a place.  No way to appreciate its charms or imagine what it might have been like to live there in times past.  I don’t hold this against Mont St Michel– it’s not her fault, after all.  However, it makes visiting less vibrant than it might be.  Kind of like wooing someone in a parlor peopled with a dozen nosy great-aunts.  There’s just no way to have an intimate relationship.  A wink, an appreciative nod, and a hope to come back someday and have the place to yourself, but that’s the best you can ask for.

St. Malo, on the other hand, seemed peopled only with locals when we were there. Although our visit was brief, it was lovely and we felt like we really got to speak with the place.

You say you know very little about Mont St Michel or Saint Malo?  Well let me back up and offer you a quick primer:

Mont St Michel sits on the southern coast of Normandy. The site was first built upon in 708, with a small sanctuary.  By 966, a settlement of Benedictine monks resided there, and the Abbey grew quickly. 

As Abbeys were centers of learning and scholarship, Mont St Michel was soon home to a vast number of manuscripts and it became a popular place of pilgrimage nicknamed “City of the Books.” 

The imposing structure that we recognize today seems to have taken shape starting in the 10th century. It’s no coincidence that the word “imposing” comes to mind, as Mont St Michel functioned as both an Abbey and a fortress over the ages.  Sitting on the border between Normandy and Brittany, this was a strategic spot.  Just as important is the position on the English Channel– the Mont functioned also as a fortress to fend off English attacks from land or sea during the Hundred Years War (beginning in the 14th century).

Under siege, the Mont suffered much destruction over the years, but was always rebuilt, perhaps more beautifully than before. 

After the French Revolution, Mont St M was briefly a prison for priests who had fallen out of favor, then a reformatory for common law and political prisoners. Perhaps it was the French version of Alcatraz. (The French do everything with more style.)

In the late 1800’s, in a somewhat delapidated state, the Abbey was designated a historical monument.  Soon, the causeway over the water was built, giving better access.  It wasn’t until the late 1960’s that a small monastic community returned to Mont St M, and by the 1980’s it had been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

If you know a little history, it’s even stranger to see this place as a crowded tourist hub– this solitary isle of monks, soldiers, prisoners.  If you are able to make a visit on a quiet day, jump at the chance! In the meantime, try a short video to whet your appetite: See a video view here:  abbaye-mont-saint-michel.fr/en/Explore/Video

Moving on down the road into Brittany and the port city of St. Malo:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is stmaloaerial.jpg
St. Malo

St. Malo’s history will carry you back to Roman times.  By the 4th century, a Roman garrison was well established there. By the time Roman influence waned, Celtic settlers had arrived, soon followed by a monastic community in the 6th century. A culture flourished that was proud and independent. By the 17th century, St Malo began to grow a reputation for corsairs and pirates (or the vaguely more gentlemanly “privateers”– but we all know those are just socially sanctioned pirates and plunderers).


St Malo was hard hit by WWII– German troops took the town as a garrison, and eventually set ruinous fires in the aftermath of D-Day. The Americans and Allies tried to help . . .but, in the logic of wartime, that help looked like bombing and shelling the area.  St. Malo was liberated, but also devastated.


The walled city was a hollow remnant of its former self following the war, but it was rebuilt in the decade following. The original defensive walls (the ramparts) still stand, and the interior rebuilding was done with a mission of “restoration,” allowing the ancient aesthetic to be recaptured and still rule the day.  If you walk the streets of St. Malo oblivious to its modern history, it’s easy to be . . . well. . . oblivious to its modern history.

But the exploits of earlier times are impossible to ignore. The old walled city juts out into the sea– it verily sings out its stories of pirates and adventurers.  I understand that it was a sanctuary city: from the mid 1100’s, the town gave asylum to all who requested it.  No doubt, thieves, buccaneers, and folk who hadn’t settled their debts flocked here.  It makes for a storied place.  Not sure if it made for a peaceful abode at the time, but it’s a lovely visit these days.

When we made a visit, back in 2006 or 2007, our children were small, so running around the walls or riding the carousel were the highlights of the day. And why not? It was a charming way to enjoy the city. I might have wished for a little more time to enjoy the churches and museums, but them’s the breaks. I’ll leave that for future goals on a return visit. For now, I’m happy with my memories of carousels and my own little pirates storming the ramparts.

I’ll leave you with a taste of St. Malo via a narrated video tour of the beaches, the ramparts, and a bit of the city. Enjoy! Bon Voyage!

Memorial Day Amongst The Graves of Normandy and God’s Town of the Frying Pans

PART ONE

You will ask yourself what the D-Day beaches, the allied graves in Normandy, and divinely sanctioned frying pays have to do with one another. It’s not a glib pairing. It’s the stuff of Normandy– and a reminder this Memorial Day, not only of the great sacrifices that have been made by the few for the many, but that the most harrowing of military struggles take place in someone’s backyard, on someone’s city streets, where craftspeople, chefs, and families gather amongst the pots and pans of life.

It’s easy for Memorial Day to be about abstract ideals and abstract heroism when you’ve never had war on your doorstep, or never lost a friend or family member in war.

One Memorial Day, 2008 I believe, we caught the ferry from England to France and lingered for a week in Normandy. As a military family in the early 2000’s, we knew the sting of loss in our communities, yet we knew the loss in our community paled compared to the numbers lost in World War II. It was impossible to live a short jump from the beaches of Normandy and not feel drawn to the site of the largest amphibious invasion in history . . . and the resting place of thousands of American and Allied soldiers lost during that invasion.

So we set out to discover Normandy, visit the American Cemetery there, and also enjoy some sorties to Mont St. Michel and to St. Malo (in Brittany).

And the frying pans? We made camp for the week in the charming town of Villedieu-les-Poêles: literally, “God’s town of the frying pans.”

I offer, here, short notes on what we saw that week, including the American Cemetery, its thousands of graves forever resting, forever watching, above the sands of Omaha Beach.

Villedieu-les-Poêles

We booked a large family room at a hotel in town. The room had ample space and a small loft area– exactly what you need when you are on the road with young children for the week and gale force storms have been forecast. Room to move and play should you have to sit inside– that’s imperative if you aim to keep your sanity.

Villedieu is a beautiful, ancient village, anchored by a market square and the Church of Notre-Dame by the Place de la Republique.

A nifty portrayal of the Place de Republique back in the middle ages. Notice that the Church of Notre Dame anchored the town center then, just as it does today (pictured below).

Here in “God’s City of the Pans,” a long tradition of metal smithing has flourished over the centuries. The town is famous for a foundry that makes bells that ring in the cathedrals throughout France. It’s even more famous for . . . you guessed it– frying pans and cookware. The much lauded Mauviel factory, world famous for copper cookware, is here. The factory is still family owned and surprisingly small. The pans are produced to a high standard, as they have been since 1830. Today the work is largely automated, but hand finishing and close inspection ensures quality. These pans don’t come cheap, but a visit to Mauviel and Villedieu will put the price tag in perspective. You pay for quality, for careful craftsmanship, and for tradition.

About that tradition: Villedieu has been a center of copper and metal work since the Middle Ages. The association runs so deep that the residents of Villedieu have long been called “les sourdins” (“the deaf”). Lifetimes of hammering away to shape metal did produce a population that was singularly hard of hearing.

You foodies may want to read David Lebovitz’s article on the Mauviel factory, here. Yes, Lebovitz–the chef turned author, and over-the-top Francophile–has made a pilgrimage to Villedieu and made off with a passel of pans. If you ever get the chance, I suggest you do the same.

Now to transition from Villedieu to the Second World War and remembrance: with a silent film reel from the Allied troops taking the town in 1944.

Normandy’s American Cemetery

The gale force storms that had been promised for our vacation week picked a disappointing, but somehow entirely appropriate day to arrive. They struck with full force on the day we drove to overlook Omaha Beach and visit the American Cemetery. There were few other cars in the parking lot, and, as best I could see, only two other people making their way from their car down to the cemetery– a very elderly gentleman on a walker with what looked to be a family member. I assume he was a returning soldier, and I can’t tell you how it touched me to watch him slowly make his way from his car, fighting against wind and rain. He had known worse in his life.

I’m ashamed to admit this next bit. If I could fib about it without feeling I’d doubly disrespected those fallen souls who rest by the beaches of Normandy, then I’d do it. But they would know. So . . .truth time. My daughter and I chose not to leave the car. The weather was wicked beyond belief. Still. . . I regret that.

My husband and son (then three or four years old), made a mad dash out to the gravesites to pay respects. Perhaps I should have kept my son back in the car: when my husband explained the cemetery and headstones before them, my son did his best to show his understanding by clutching his chest and falling to the ground. It was earnest four-year-old parlance for the tragedy. Still, it was not ideal. My husband scooped him up quickly and they made their way back to the car.

Our reverence was real, but the day had not gone to plan.

We headed for the hotel, so the boys could put on dry clothes and we could sit out the storm– there was nothing else to be done for it. But we talked about the place, the sacrifice, and the absolute necessity of it in turning the tables on Hitler and the Third Reich. We weren’t sure how well the history resonated with our young children– or whether we wanted it too, as gory and disheartening as it was.

Back at the hotel, when the children climbed to the loft to play Legos as the storm raged outside, we were heartened when a lone Lego figure was catapulted from the loft amid cheering and jeering, and we heard “Take that Mr. Hitler. Don’t come back!” as the tiny terror bounced his way down the stairs.

It was a small, good thing in a day that had gone sideways. We remembered, in our own way.

I’ll leave you with a moment of respect at the graves of Normandy– a video of “Taps” at the site– as well as a poignant wartime poem. In a few days, I’ll return with some notes on the second part of our trip, to Mont St. Michel and St. Malo.

John McCrae’s poem was written after WWI, but it rings true as a remembrance for fallen soldiers of any era.

When Life Looks Grimm

Outlook is everything. Better to be an optimist than a pessimist. This I won’t deny . . . however. . . I will say that life is complicated, and it’s better to understand finesse and grey areas than to see the world in stark terms of happy/sad, good/bad, obstacle/opportunity. To be sure, the “glass half empty or glass half full” test paints a certain picture, but as many people before me have noted, it’s far better to realize that the glass is in flux and ever able to be refilled. Ebb and flow, people. Is it even possible to live a balanced life without a sense that there will be ebb and there will be flow?

The Brothers Grimm

This is a roundabout way of coming to the topic of The Brothers Grimm, who occupied my thoughts last week on two fronts. First, I’ve been developing a few lessons on Fairy Tales– those richly complicated stories that seem to have have a Jekyll and Hyde personality in modern imagination. Are they adorable children’s tales where everyone lives happily ever after, or are they dark musings on our dreams and fears that sometimes delve deep into violence? Do they encourage good children to uphold social mores, or do they foment revolutionary plottings?

In a word: Yes.

The second reason the Grimm brothers showed up on the scene last week was new information to me. These literary brothers just celebrated the anniversary of their Deutsches Worterbuch. Their German Dictionary was a huge undertaking, and Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm sought to do more than just record the meanings of the most used German words. They set out to record “the origin and use of EVERY German word.” Deutsches Welle, the German media outlet, has an informative article on this undertaking (here) in its broad scope and political overtones. Definitely worth a read.

The Grimm Brothers’ German Dictionary

How did these famous storytellers come to write a dictionary? Well, first of all, it may help to remember that they were “story catchers”– scholars driven by a desire to preserve stories and the cultures they grew out of. Second, they found themselves at a pivot point, not unlike characters in the tales they collected. The Grimm brothers were professors (anthropologists and linguists), suddenly jobless after the University of Gottingen fired a cluster of educators who refused to swear an oath to the new king or back the alteration of the constitution in Hanover in 1837. They took up the challenge of creating the first German dictionary, largely, because they had bills to pay. Their thorough approach was remarkable and reflected their love of the language: “especially enamoured with the letter A, calling it the ‘noblest, most original of all sounds.’ Unsurprisingly, their famous dictionary begins with a detailed linguistic history of the vowel” (dw.com). The brothers were thorough and reverent . . .however, this approach also ensured that the project would not be completed in their lifetime.

As careful to preserve the diverse dialects of Germany as they had been to capture and preserve the folk tales of their land, they were also keenly aware that this project wielded a certain political muscle in unifying the German Reich linguistically. They would compile one linguistic platform to bring together the diverse German-speaking states. I like to think that they took to heart the role of the trickster in so many of the fairy tales they had gathered: having lost their jobs to a certain political vision, they found a way to incorporate that vision into their new work. They were wily and triumphant . . . in the long game.

It was an ambitious undertaking that outlasted both the Grimm brothers and many iterations of the modern German state– only seeing completion in 1961. Many decades, many unpronouncable German words, and 32 volumes later.

If you have read this blog over the years, you will know of my struggles with the German language. And you will know that I am in the good company of Mark Twain on that front. Still, the Deutsches Worterbuch was a remarkable undertaking that has my utmost respect. Many a day, the project must have felt like a hungry wolf at Jacob and Wilhelm’s backs. But that, my friends, is a little red story for another day.

Little Boy Found:

My father at 4 years old

I love the hidden stories implicit in a found object– an “objet trouvé,” as the French would say. (And everything sounds better in French.) The beauty of found objects lies partially in them being so full of possibility, but also in what they teach us of empathy when we try to place ourselves in their story. In Bruges, I once found a small photo of a young man; it was precariously sat on a windowsill I passed by. I didn’t dare move it– perhaps it was left for the occupant on the other side of the window? Or perhaps the object of his affection had tossed it aside as she walked down the street, and it landed on this perch. Perhaps it had accidentally been dropped and another passerby had picked it up from the street, moving it where it might be found again, thinking somewhere, someone in town was looking frantically to find it. I left the photo, imagining that the story was still in play.

Or there’s the Grateful Dead songbook I stumbled on at a used book store, only to have a personal note fall out at my feet: “Jan. 1987. To Grace, with love, Krissy. When you’re older and wiser and living in Paris, I hope you’ll never forget our great times and the Grateful Dead. Welcome home!” I found this youthful time capsule for sale for a few dollars in the suburbs of DC in 2018. I hope that Grace is living in Paris and loving life. I hope this memento was only discarded because she travels light and keeps on truckin’, not because she’s lost touch with those great times and her friend Krissy. But who knows?

Another time, I found a tiny Bible in the £1 box at a British antique fair. I opened it up to find an amazing soldier’s story inside. But that lovely story should wait for its own post someday. Today, I have something else to talk about. The found object is my father. At four years old. Living in a small mill house in NC in the aftermath of the Great Depression.

I knew my father very well and loved him even better. I thought, foolishly, that I knew the book of his life. That I could pick it up off the bookshelf without having notes fall out and catch me by surprise. Moments of youthful joy, or family struggle, or any of the thousands of days and hundreds of thousands of hours that were his story and not mine, despite the tight weave of family that we share. To love someone well is to know them in a way that you feel their presence deep in your bones. But that doesn’t mean you know all the frames of their story, and it is an exquisite and poignant experience when these notes fall out of their book and land at your feet. It’s a gift that reawakens wonder and empathy. But I ramble on.

My dad and his younger brother, Larry. I’m not sure his age here, but I’d guess 5-6.

Pardon me. I’ll slow down and tell you about this found object.

A few weeks ago, I was walking a very particular path: the one year anniversary of my father’s death. A path by turns beautiful and rough; a week about enduring memory and love, as well as the sting of loss.

A very mundane thing happened that week. Ancestry.com emailed me that my DNA/origins information had been updated. It happens with some regularity. (And to my dismay, it always draws my regional circle tighter and never suddenly tells me: “Girl, we just found a Russian Tsaress/Egyptian pharaoh/Amazonian princess in your background!” Nope, I’m entirely Western European and mostly English, Scottish, Irish. In fact, I’m so Scottish that it’s baffling my hair isn’t flame-red. On the other hand, I’m no longer perplexed that my mother eats oats for breakfast every morning. Every. Single. Morning. She can’t help it– it’s in her DNA, apparently.) But I digress– which is easy to do in the mundane moments of your story.

I opened this ancestry update to find that I am still the most White Anglo-Saxon Protestant woman on the planet. I suppose the marketing team at Ancestry.com realized that this was not terribly exciting news, and they couldn’t automatically count on me rushing to purchase their services to learn more. They would have to pitch something specific of interest: my grandfather’s WWII draft registration card and a page from the 1940 census. For a small fee.

I already know my family history. I have pages and pages of names, dates, locations. I know who did the begetting and who was begat. But this meaningful coincidence– a small platter of tasty family morsels as I walked a week hungry with loss and heavy with my father’s spirit– this, I could not ignore.

Besides which, I’m a savvy researcher and was pretty sure I could find these documents online without paying the asking price. (Damn, there’s my Scottish frugality peeking through!)

So now we return to the beginning of this post- the place of found objects and enchanted spaces. The place where I find my father at 4 years old.

The 1940 census.

I opened the document and it was like opening the wardrobe door into Narnia. I absolutely couldn’t believe my eyes. There was this family that I know, but don’t know. My grandfather at 30. (He would be dead 9 years later.) My grandmother as a young mother to three boys, ranging from 4 down to less than a year. And those three boys– that happy few, that band of brothers, who joked and jostled and supported each other throughout their lives. Three tiny boys who dug tiny trenches in the backyard during WWII, believing that any minute Japanese Zeroes would swarm the sky over their small NC town and they’d have to take cover. Who dearly loved a little boy dog they misguidedly named Daisy. And who could never agree on which of them set off the cherry bombs inside the house. (Although they were all quite sure that the culprit had tried to throw them out the window, but missed.) That naughty and noble band of brothers is, today, reduced to a band of one.

But in the 1940 census, they are alive and well, in the first years of their journey and living in a rented house along with their parents and a lodger–their father’s Aunt Mattie.

I haven’t encountered Mattie before. Who is this Aunt Mattie, I wonder? And where is this house, exactly? I turn back to the internet to find it. To see where these people I love, but somehow don’t know at all, are living.

Google Earth street view- the home where
my father lived in 1940

I find the house. It’s still standing today, unchanged on the outside. It’s a small mill house built in 1915. Two bedrooms for these three adults and three children.

The 1930’s were lean and mean years, and The Great Depression had not spared this community. Farmers scraped by. The mills spluttered and many closed their doors, selling off the mill houses. Dinner tables didn’t groan under the weight of hearty helpings. And people worked hard to simply stay afloat. I’d always believed that my parents grew up after this wave of hardship broke. That they were touched by those years, but not burdened. But peering into this small house, I wondered.

And so I turned back to the faded lines of the 1940 census, where I found information about my grandparents’ employment.

In 1940, my grandfather was working 70 hours a week as a cafe operator. My grandmother, who was college educated and was a teacher before having children (and again after my grandfather’s death), was working 40 hours a week as a seamstress in a cloth mill. This surprised me. In 1940, most women gave up work after getting married and having children — that was the expectation until the war effort really cranked up. If my grandmother was back at work with three tiny tots at home, and working in a job none of us ever heard her talk about later . . .this felt like hard times. And Aunt Mattie, whom I had guessed was there to help with the young children? Now I see that she was also working 40 hours a week, inspecting cloth in the mill. It seems that they were working mighty hard just to get by.

I know what they don’t know yet- that 1940 is the cusp where lean times begin the turn to boom times. But the price is another world war. I know that these three boys will grow up to be fine men, but I know also that personal tragedy and plenty of struggle will color their decade ahead. In this moment, I want so badly to actually reach out and touch them. To sit and talk. To just watch them and learn who they are, and how they are– these people I know but don’t know.

What a gift, this of all weeks, to stand in the doorway of this humble house, seeing the band of brothers, admiring my young grandmother, and trying to conjure the grandfather and great-great aunt that I never knew. I feel a strange mix of pride and sorrow. Proud of the determination and hard work of a family that will go on to raise three amazing men. Sorrow for the hardships and heartbreak I know will continue to touch this family in the years ahead.

I also feel wonder, and a little pain, that there is so much more I could learn about my father, so much more his life can teach me . . . but so much I am sure to never know.

It feels like a gift, this 1940 census. Like a magic portal. Like a little nudge from the universe, a whispered secret. A found object here, an old document there. A window into the lives we know intimately and not at all.

My father at 4 years old.

Battle of Britain Day, 2019

Today, September 15, is Battle of Britain Day, marking the date in 1940 when the German Luftwaffe launched an enormous attack on London and South East England, but the Royal Air Force pushed back victorious and turned the tides in the larger “Battle of Britain”- a nearly 4 month long campaign.

I know this, not because I am a WWII fanatic.  I know this because it streamed across my computer this morning.  The universe handed me this nugget not so much as a random byte of information, it seems to me, but as a beautiful gesture of syncronicity, an acknowledgment of battles we face.

My parents grew up during WWII.  They took form, in character and outlook, from the struggles and victories of that era.  If their lives have a soundtrack, it is generously sprinkled with Big Band music,  Ella Fitzgerald, and the tappity-tap-tap of my mother tap dancing her way through a recording of “The Boogie Woogie Buggle Boy from Company B.”  It may not be my generation’s music, but I do find that my heart swells when I hear it because it so pulses through the veins of my parents in their youthful moments.

It will come as no surprise that my dad has always been a student of WWII era aircraft.  He indulged that love of Spitfires and Corsairs, poured over books about them and history magazines that featured WWII battles, and built model airplanes with my brother when we were young.

I observed this and, although I never shared the obsession or built the model airplanes, I loved his love of the history and of the forms of flight and defenders of freedom that these metal birds represented.  Because I love my dad.

There was one way in which my dad and I shared his love of WWII history and aircraft, and I suspect he doesn’t know this.  In fact, I never thought about it until this week– it’s one of those memories of childhood that doesn’t get fully processed until some time later in life. It’s like a shiny pebble you pick up and put in your treasure box as a child, just because it delights you.  Years later, you open the box to have a nostalgic look at those simple prizes of childhood, only to realize that you have pocketed a gold nugget.

This is one of those nuggets:

The church system was older than this, but this gives you an idea of what it looked like.

In the 1970’s, my dad would often man the P.A. (public address) system at our church on Sunday mornings.  The control board was a large metal tower of dials and toggle switches that had to be monitored for volume and switched at the right moment, to turn on and off microphones that were placed around the sanctuary. Was someone reading a lesson from the lecturn? Was the minister stepping up to the pulpit to deliver a long and learned sermon?  Wherever the action was, there the microphone should be turned on.  Wherever the action wasn’t, it should be shut off to avoid buzz and background noise.

The fellow in the pulpit may have the figurative spotlight for a speech, but if the PA system wasn’t properly aligned, the whole morning fizzled.

Manning the PA system was important, but it wasn’t exciting.  You sat in a small room behind the sanctuary, armed with a church bulletin and notes on where each “act” of the service would take place.  You stared at a large metal tower set into a recess of the wall, and you navigated the service while you listened in on the giant aviator-style headphones that were provided. 

Yes indeed, you navigated the service in your aviator headphones.  So it seemed to me.  You see, my dad would occasionally let me join him when he manned the PA system.  From his perspective, it was probably just a chance to spend a little more time with his children.  Or maybe he knew my fascination with aviator headphones.  Either way, on the rare occassion, I was his co-pilot in this cockpit.

When I was lucky enough to join my dad, it was a big deal to me. I liked the headphones, and I marveled at the dials and switches, while sitting on a metal chair with my feet dangling above the ground.  If I fidgeted and squirmed, it was only between moments of staring, enrapt, at the towering cockpit and keeping an eye on my dad’s deft piloting of the apparatus.

I wasn’t old enough to see it then– I loved the experience, but wasn’t self-aware enough to know why.  Today, it is crystal clear to me.  In these moments, I was flying a Spitfire over the skies of London.  I was piloting a Corsair over the English Channel.  I was a green co-pilot to my dad’s flying ace, and I loved every moment.  Sure, we got off easy: when Dr. Joe Mullin stepped to the pulpit for a long sermon, we’d flip on his mic, then leave our post and scramble down to the kitchen for donuts.  But we’d always be back in place before Joe finished, and we’d fly that service back into a safe and smooth landing before shutting down the cockpit and hanging up our headphones for the day.

We were a great aviatorial team, my dad and me.  The best.

So today we honor those brave souls who fought The Battle of Britain, and my dad is still the best pilot any co-pilot could have.  He’s fighting his own battle with cancer now.  It’s very difficult and grueling.  Some days, it’s just a wing and a prayer.  But no matter that– today is a day to lift up the brave, and, although my dad was just a school boy at the time, he’s my favorite WWII hero.

I love you, Dad!