When Julia Mackey was 12 years old she watched a Holocaust documentary and was stunned to see a pile of eyeglasses left behind once the wearers passed on. That “horrific image” haunted her and gave her a deeper appreciation for the veterans who served in World War II.
“I wanted to write something as a thank you to veterans,” she said, so she developed a play called Jake’s Gift to honour veterans and remember those who didn’t come home.
Jake’s Gift features the relationship between a veteran and a young girl “who gets obsessed with wanting to meet veterans.”
That girl has a great deal in common with the younger Ms. Mackey, who said: “I think her obsession was really my obsession.”
Ms. Mackey sought special permission from Veterans Affairs to attend the 60th anniversary of D-Day in 2004, where she met with veterans and listened with rapt attention to the stories they told.
“It was one of the most moving experiences of my life,” she said. “For many of them it was their first time back since they landed in Normandy.”
The veterans she interviewed were “very open and kind” and she formed lasting friendships with them.
When Ms. Mackey came home, she drew on the conversations she had with veterans and her own imagination to write Jake’s Gift. Now she has been performing her play for close to 12 years and is nearing her 1,000th show.
“We’ve just been blown away by the response,” she said. “I never anticipated that people would connect so much.”
She believes the play resonates so strongly with her audiences in part because many Canadians have some personal connection to the war, whether their father, grandfather or great-grandfather fought or their ancestors suffered.
She never tires of playing the same characters. Not when they have such an important story to share. Not when her audiences are so moved. And especially not when her aging veteran friends pass away, leaving the weight of their history in her hands.
Jake’s Gift is playing in Invermere at Pynelogs Art Gallery and Cultural Centre on Saturday, November 3rd. Tickets are $25 and are available at columbiavalleyarts.com. The show starts at 7 p.m., with an opening act at 6 p.m.
The show first came to Invermere four years ago, and Ms. Mackey is looking forward to returning. She is also eager to perform her “love letter of thanks to our veterans” so close to Remembrance Day.