I met William Wallace last night.
Well…damn close anyway.
Amazingly enough, as Fate would have it, a couple came into my motel last night with an elderly gentleman and I thought they were a family: they weren't. The couple said this man knocked on their door, upset and lost. He was from a town about 10 hours away and had become confused and disorientated in the fog and dark, and stopped at the first house he saw to ask directions.
They felt kindly towards him and guided him into town and to my motel. *He had actually come to my motel 6 hours earlier but didn’t recognize the new signage we had just put up and thought he was lost…and drove around all that time trying to figure out where he was!)
So, however unlikely, here it was, late at night on Sept 17th 2014, the eve of the historic Scottish vote, and I was talking to a tiny, sweet old man from Scotland who probably knew William Wallace personally (well, he was coming 90 so I MAY be exaggerating slightly).
And if I paid close attention, I could actually understand him!
He was spry and so funny and very opinionated and he had the BEST stories. A writer’s dream. I could have talked to him all night, but he was rather pooped out from his ordeal so I tricked him into telling me about his family and tucked him off to bed (older people do NOT like to be treated as such and this man obviously cherished his independence, like my own father had been, so I didn’t want him to become angry that I was checking on him). I then called his son to make sure his dad was okay to still drive etc…and the son was relieved and grateful to know everything was okay. His father left on the spur of the moment and should not have been driving at night.
So here I am now, sipping my morning coffee and whipped cream out of my Scotland mug and looking out the window, making sure that Scotty (real name Bob) says goodbye and is good to go on his next leg of his journey. He had mentioned briefly that he just may stay another night…and I sure hope he does.
I have a few stories to squeeze out of him yet…
I Met William Wallace: Part 2
He was just lining up his pills and was heading out for his morning routine of breakfast at a restaurant and then Tim Horton’s for a coffee and strudel. With a wistful gaze, he mentioned that his wife was usually part of the routine…and taking my cue, because I know my place in life, I asked him if he wanted some company. His eyes lit up and off we went. I drove, but not before my husband Peter told him he'd better have me home by 11.
He spoke of finding German soldiers who would have been shot dead without a second thought had the Americans or Russians found them, but who he let go with a few rounds shot in the air because "Ye dinna wont ta shoot thim if ye didna hafta!”, and how a Captain in full regalia, along with his 2000 men surrendered to him and his 15 men because “They were forced ta fight ye ken…nobody likes ta fight and all them billionaires and their sons sat back and watch the rest of us make their war.”
He showed me his tattoo, a silhouette of an airplane that represented the British Paratroopers braced atop with the word India on one side and 1945 on the other, and a thick blue bar under it all that represent the Rhein River in Germany (where my husband was born, oddly enough). He had been stationed in many countries and they were probably beautiful he said, but he hadn’t seen them as a tourist and they didn’t eat well there, so that ‘taints yer view of things’.
Scotty was the best show it town.
We scooted off to Tim's where we enjoyed our strudels and coffees and he told me how he moved to Canada in 1957 and found out one of his neighbors was a German named Fritz. When they met while mowing their respective lawns, the man asked Scotty if he was in the war and after saying he was, the man said “I sink you shot me down!", to which Scotty replied, "Looks ta me like I missed!" They became very dear, lifelong friends.
He arrived in our manager’s suite and was very pleased to see that we had bought some ‘real’ beer: Guinness Draught from Dublin. Scotty came in at 7 and didn’t stop telling stories until 11, when I reluctantly told him that I had to close up shop and call it a night. I could tell you most of them but I will only repeat a few briefly as they are good examples of how the night went:
I found it hard to swallow my beer.
The HMS Colossus 1945
The drudgery was lightened by a noon hour soccer match on the pier. That helped a lot he said, because every day someone died there…either from falling off a plank, getting a rivet drilled in the head or eye, or burning to death from an oxygen leak near a torch… like his assistant. He had heard a scream and a thump and there was ‘not much more thanna couple'a feet lefta poor Willy’.
We drank our beers and he showed us pictures he had with him of The Boys having a cold beer in a pub in Palestine, he recalls with a grin (Scotty is seated first), but the back reads 'June 10th 1947 Italia'. I didn't correct him;
...one of his lifelong neighbor and pal: (ink on back said: Captured in Palistine, German sailor; Afrika 28/9/47. "In remembrance of your friend Fritz");
...and one of himself when he enlisted at 18. The inked inscription on its back reads: Singapore, 7th Parachute Battalion 6th Airborne Div LOST HALF BATTALION
Such a happy and innocent face, but the penned notation brought tears to my eye. But I hid it. I didn’t want to spoil his fun: pictures of his RCMP son, Robert Jr. of whom he is exceedingly proud; great granddaughters with familiar twinkly eyes; his ‘good lass’ wife and many shots of wartime prisoners and his mates. As a photographer, this was the icing on a beautiful cake for me. He allowed me to copy them and gave permission to share a few with you (above). Here is my favorite that I took: Scotty and my husband Peter looking at the photos:
Peter walked Scotty to his room after fond good-nights, and as he left, I heard him tell my husband as they melted into the night “I like ta walk, but in the British Airborne, we had ta make 124 steps per minute…”
We said our farewells and got a fierce hug the next morning, and after another joke or two, off went our sweet Scottish Scotty (real name Bob) Boal, Canucks flag whipping in the wind over his hood, and I couldn’t wait to come and share him with you all and make his words as immortal as I hoped he would somehow magically prove to be. He deserves to be remembered as a hero.