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George Mitchell: Keep calm and carry on… to 107 years old

Charlie received hundreds of cards on his 107th birthday. 
Charlie received hundreds of cards on his 107th birthday. 

“Hey George, come in, good to see you,” said Charlie when I stuck my head round his door. It had been two years since our last meeting.

He smiled and took my hand in his. He’s been through a lot recently and is slowly getting over his latest chest infection, as he did double pneumonia two years ago.

When in hospital with that one, he told himself: “I’m going to beat this.” And he did.

Six months ago, aged 106, Charlie fell off his electric buggy in the garden and broke his pelvis. He was hospitalised for three weeks.

“It was very painful,” he told me. But like always, Charlie showed that true war-time fighting spirit and got himself better.

Look at the photo of him on an exercise bike during his recuperation. What an inspiration.

Charlie at the physio after breaking his pelvis at 106.

“How do you feel now Charlie?” I asked him.

“Up and down, but life has its privileges.” He’s always a glass-half-full guy.

Sure, he’s slowing down somewhat, but aren’t we all? That said, the more we chatted, the more focused he became. He still has a sparkle in his eye. Pretty damn good for 107 I’d say.

Suddenly Charlie got up, and with his walking aid headed off. And by the way, he can move at a heck of a pace on that thing. I thought he was going to the bathroom, but no, he returned with a bottle of rum and a big smile on his face. He poured us a shot each into our coffee and we continued chatting.

“Tell me about your recent birthday Charlie?” I said.

“Oh, it was great. I had kids from a school come and sing me happy birthday. And they brought many cards made by children from local schools.”

Charlie handed me two giant boxes stuffed full of beautiful cards. Hundreds and hundreds of hand-written cards, painted pictures, many with personal messages of gratitude to Charlie for being in the Second World War. I could see that he was deeply touched by his cards.

The messages in the cards were often very poignant. One in particular caught my eye. A 15-year-old said: “My generation will never fully understand what you went through.”

Never a truer phrase was said. Total respect to that teenager.

“You still got a good appetite Charlie?” I enquired.

“Oh yeah. I start with my porridge every morning.”

Donna, his daughter, told me that he’d been out the day previously for a drive with his family, and enjoyed a naughty takeaway treat. He ate French fries, onion rings and battered mushrooms. Nice one Charlie.

‘Just to keep the cold out’. George and Charlie enjoy a wee dash of rum.

Over the years, Charlie has shown me numerous photos and fascinating documents from the war. At this meeting he showed me a piece of paper that means a lot to him. The death certificate of a Canadian soldier who died in Italy in 1944. Although in separate regiments, being from the same area of Canada, the two men were friends. Charlie reminisced about the incident and told me how he got his hands on the death certificate. It obviously still moves him to this very day. Charlie mentioned that he was sad, believing that his friend, who is buried in Italy, is now forgotten.

His name is Earl Wardell. He is not forgotten Charlie.

RIP Mr Wardell. And to quote Charlie himself: “Canada’s finest are buried in European graves.”

Be under no illusion though, Charlie is not stuck in the past, every day he reads the papers and still uses his iPad. Covid, he told me, didn’t worry him.

He also enjoys drawing with pencils, mostly of trees. “Keeps my mind busy,” Charlie told me. He then gifted me a drawing he’d done that very morning, his name signed in a beautiful hand that puts my writing to shame.

“I also like to go into the garden and feed the birds. But the chipmunks usually take most of the nuts,” he commented with a wry smile.

After almost three hours of bending his ear, I decided to leave him in peace.

“I’ll pop in past again, soon, Charlie,” I told him.

“Come in anytime,” he said, taking my hand and smiling, before adding his now famous line: “I ain’t going anywhere.”

Super Saturday

It’s snowing in Ontario and has been for a few weeks. Minus 10 the other morning. All totally normal here.

The weather has been very cold where George is.

A week prior, Andy said to me: “Next Saturday I have to work, and they can’t go to mum Amy’s as she’s teaching that day – can you have the boys for the whole day?”

“Sure, no problem,” I said, brushing it off as a piece of cake.

When I went to bed that night, I mulled it over, and started to realise how long a whole day was. No going out for walks for me, no focused for hours on my laptop, for these two guys, as all kids do, need attention and stimulation. Hmm, this is going to be interesting. I decided, therefore, to have a plan. Not just let them zombie out in front of the TV.

Andy left the house at 8.45am. The boys, still in their PJs, were hungry.

First up, breakfast. They chose eggs and beans on toasts; a good choice I thought.

They’re very interesting when it comes to food. Rilke, aged six, told me on Super Saturday when I gave him avocado on toast for lunch: “That was delicious.”

A few nights previously, when I made a stew with beans in it, he said: “That dish is not very tasty.” Brutal honesty indeed.

Rilke, the toughest food critic in Canada.

Rilke has enjoyed showing me his magic skills over the past few weeks, by making an object disappear out of his hands. Playing along I said in an exaggerated manner: “Wow, you’re amazing!”

Rilke replied deadpan: “I watch YouTube.”

Most of the morning was taken up with our main task of the day, putting up the tree. What a palaver that was. First, we dragged it out of the basement and upstairs. Thick with dust, we had to vacuum if from top to bottom.

Rilke put on his Christmas hat, and with Dean Martin crooning away in the background, the three of us decorated the tree.

The boys inspect their festive handiwork.

Once the tree was complete, and Dean now singing Winter Wonderland – no one does it like him in my opinion – the boys sat down and quietly did some drawing. Finn made a Christmas card for Lina while Rilke drew her a picture of an ice volcano.

Finn is getting better and better at darts. His dad has set up a board downstairs in the basement. We’ve been playing a lot. As I write this, we’ve just a finished a game. He checked out on 56. Single 16, double 20. Extremely impressive for a nine-year-old. I was still on 103.

Finn is a dab hand at darts.

At 2.15pm Rilke had a piano lesson, so Finn and I took the opportunity to head into town. It was freezing, but a hot chocolate warmed him up and gave him the energy to keep going. A couple of presents were duly bought, which later made for two happy boys.

Late afternoon and finally home from work, Andy seemed impressed by all our efforts, although he said to me: “You look like you need a glass of wine.”

Our day together, much to the boys’ delight, was capped off with takeaway, before we all sat down and watched the classic feel-good movie, Home Alone.

At 9pm, very tired after a big day, the boys happily went to bed. To be honest, I wasn’t far behind them. Super Saturday – job done.

It would soon be time for me to leave Canada, but there was still one last subject I really wanted to write about.

Cannabis is now totally legal in Canada.

Time to do this. To research it, buy it, consume it, and write about it.

Next week – Taking cannabis… legally

PS – Since writing this column and returning from Canada, I received the sad news that Charlie has passed on. I visited him on numerous occasions this last month, and it was obvious he was getting frailer. To be honest, when I saw him last week, I “knew” I wouldn’t see him again. He said to me on my last visit: “We’ve all got to go sometime.” I think he also knew. He still had a glint in his eye though when he poured me a small rum. RIP Mr Charles Fisher. It was an absolute pleasure to get to know you.

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