Every year on VE day, it is my task to take my grandfather down to Atlantic City to blow his veteran’s pension on blackjack and the craps tables. It doesn’t take long. The cocktail waitresses flirt with his slow-moving hands and generous tips.
He tells them that he flew for the RAF, that’s the Royal Air Force to you, my dear. And when he says flew, he does not mean the cowardly way of being encased in an airplane, but flew. Really flew with wings. Fought the Nazis like birds, like superior birds. Part of a little known hush-hush group called Lord Stanley’s Winged Reconnaissance Group. They flew with canvas wings. They were used for covert actions, when planes were too cumbersome. They saved many a neck for England and the Allies. They would have been knighted, if they were allowed to admit their existence.
The cocktail waitresses smile broadly, pat his hand, and no doubt water down his next drink. This time, a waitress takes me aside. “Is he for real?” she asks. “I never heard of anything like that before.”
I tell her that my grandfather would show me a worn, folded photograph of young British soldiers on a beach fixing large canvas wings. In the background looks like men flying in the air like kites. On the back, in my grandfather’s hand, is written, “Me and the boys in Dover doing a spot of Wing Mending. 1944.”
She asks, “Can I see that picture?”
I tell her I don’t bring it. I don’t show it. That everyone who sees it tries to find the fault. Everyone explains about photo manipulation and what computers can do, even make something this fake look real. I tell her it’s just not worth the conversation or conjectures.
She does not understand. She asks, “So do you believe it? Do you think it’s real?”
After the pension money is gone, Grandfather orders me to push his chair to the boardwalk. To watch the breakers and see the pretty girls in bikinis. He gets out of his chair, leans on his cane and watches with avid attention. But soon I spy him looking at the seagulls dancing on the horizon. The drunk but perfect dips and circles. The navigation of air currents and want. And grandfather shakes his head dismissively at the distant birds.
“They’re doing it wrong,” he says. “It’s all wrong.”
Dave Macpherson is a columnist for GotPoetry.com.