Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Best We Remember

The doors to the liquor store slide open automatically and I bring an unseasonably warm November breeze in with me. My head is filled with less-than-deep-dish thoughts, such as 'what wine goes with a McCain pizza'.

To my left, by the entrance, is a slightly stooped gentleman who, nevertheless, stands tall. He wears an impressive array of war medals on his tired old chest. The ribbons, attached above the medals, speak like voices of fire on many different levels. Next to him, on the table, is a tray of blood red poppies.

I think that I know why he stands there, but I wonder what he has seen. Does he either need or want to tell me his story? Or has he already? Perhaps just being there, by choice, is the story.

My shallow thoughts of wine never have to crawl on their belly under a barbed wire fence with gunfire overhead. There is no mud on my boots, knees or forehead. I am not numb with cold. I opt for six Stella Artois; a Belgian beer, because fine wine does not go with frozen mozzarella. Stella Artois: made where fields of poppies blow between the rows.

I could have just as easily been drinking Becks, had Adolph been more concerned with military brawn, and less with Eva. My name might not have been Ian, but rather Karlheinz, Gerhardt or Johannes. I might be driving a Mercedes Benz, rather than an 'aw shucks' Ford. I might be filling it with gas from the Berlin Irving. You just never know how things might have turned out, and that's just one more reason to wear a poppy.

The poppy is symbolic. Iconic.

I forgot to wear mine to the liquor store and I felt badly about that. The veteran at the table probably saw me, poppyless, walk past him. He may have thought that I didn't care. When I was younger I didn't seem to care, but about a decade ago I woke up. I don't know if it was a result of seeing the National War Memorial in Ottawa, or just being a father to a son who might be one day handed a gun and told to kill the enemy, or die trying.

I get a lump in my throat when I see these old veterans. I wish there were no war veterans, but I fear there always will be. So let's be respective.

I took my windsurfer down to the water's edge this morning as the sun came up. We savoured a few quiet moments of freedom together. There was no wind in Cambridge-Narrows on this crisp and beautiful November 11 morning.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

— Lt.-Col. John McCrae (1872 - 1918)


  1. Thanks Kittsie. From you, I appreciate that comment. Wendy and I were talking about you today. We're fans!