Tag Archives: Clarenville

Poppies

The poppy. What better flower could be used as a symbol of remembrance and of hope? Springing forth from the poorest of soils and in the poorest of conditions, it wields it’s brightly coloured head on the slenderest of stalks, stalks that one imagines could not bear such a heavy load. Yet, they do.

The poppy, against all odds, flourishes despite all the hardships it endures, a symbol of hope that struggles can be overcome, sacrifices made meaningful, beauty found among horror. This common, lowly weed was one of the first flowers to establish itself on the battlegrounds and cemeteries of Europe during the war to end all wars, creating a mass of waving scarlet beauty where just a short time ago the same ground was drenched in blood.

It is not just our time that uses the poppy as a symbol of remembrance. The ancient Greeks and Romans gave offerings of poppies to the dead, as a symbol of a resurrection, a better life to come. Two hundred years ago, during the Napoleonic Wars, it was recorded that poppies covered the graves of those who had fallen. In addition, the poppy, due to its medicinal qualitites, has been used for thousands of years and across many cultures as a sleep aid. John McCrae was following these traditions when he penned  his famous poem. Perhaps more importantly, even though he was surrounded by the images of war, he continued to see the beauty that still existed around him – flowers blowing gently in the breeze, larks singing as they flew overhead – and used those powerful but often overlooked images to convey a message of hope, of accepting the torch of freedom, of remembrance. “If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flander’s Fields” is a powerful statement on the nature of sacrifice from this doctor.

For many people, however, the word ‘poppy’ has another meaning. For me, growing up in Newfoundland, my grandfathers were called Poppy. Many a time I remember them, still miss them, wish I could talk them to once more in this life.

Poppy Ivany, my mother’s father, Eli, died in February 2001, after a terrible descendence into that anti-thesis of remembrance, Alzheimer’s. I have so many memories of him, but it was not until two years ago that I knew that he had volunteered to serve in World War II. He wanted to do his part, but was found medically unfit to serve, and so proudly wore his black armband showing that he was willing to fight but could not. After his memory had been destroyed and distorted by the ravages of his disease, my grandmother was forced to put him into a home. Yet she continued to visit him as often as she could. This was terribly difficult on her, not only having to make this decision but seeing him day after day descending further and further into his own private hell. I recall one day she was asked why she continued to visit him – after all, it was obvious that he no longer knew who she was. Her response? “He might not remember me. But I remember him.”

Eli’s father, Luke, was a Merchant Marine in the Great War. In the nineteen years that I knew him, he cautioned me many times to always do what was right, especially after he moved into our home when I was a teenager. One day after bestowing that same wisdom – along with many other insights – upon me once again, he paused. Getting a wistful look in his eye he told me that he always tried to be good, but there was one time he was glad he wasn’t. You see, he survived the Halifax Explosion because he and his cousin had been bad. He was positive that if they had not been sentenced to clean their ship as a punishment, that he would have been in the part of the harbour that was the worst hit when the explosion happened. His memories of that day and the days following, days when he was on clean-up detail, were etched in his memory like stone. A dazed young boy missing an arm, a father frantically searching for his family in the ruins of a house, a shell-shocked and blinded mother trying to feed her headless infant. My Poppy Luke had seen some terrible things during his time in service, and for many years he was quick to do his part at the Clarenville War Memorial ceremony as one of the last living veterans of World War I.

I sit here on this Remembrance Day, contemplating all of these things, and cannot help but think that when the Millennium comes it will be a strange experience for so many people. A time without war, without conflict, without sadness or loss…. Would that such a thing were possible before then, as we are admonished in the scriptures to ‘renounce war and proclaim peace’. Until that time, I will promote the cause of peace, support those who choose to be part of peace-keeping efforts, pray for a better tomorrow, and continue to wear the red poppy each year in remembrance of sacrifices made by loved ones, friends and strangers.

The poppies still grow in Flander’s Fields.

Lest we forget.

Jack

The old house stands empty near the intersection of Bar Road and what is now called ‘Trinity Drive’. The open door of the traditional Newfoundland-style square home with the low roof swings diligently back and forth in the breeze as I watch, reminding me of Jack, a man I never met and whose last name I did not know until a few weeks ago, but who plays an unforgettable role in my childhood memories.

You see, the only memories I have of this short and stocky man are of him dressed in his red and purple checked flannel shirt and grey-green overalls and rubber boots and blue hat with the ear-flaps, a shovel in his hand, either digging in the ditch in front of his house or taking a break from digging in the ditch in front of his house. I didn’t know if he was married, had children, lived alone, had pets. I didn’t know how old he was, what his last name was, what he did for a living. I don’t even know when he died. The only thing I know is that whatever this man was, whoever this man was, he left a legacy behind. It’s a somewhat small legacy, and probably only important to me, but a legacy, a gift handed down from one generation to the next, nonetheless.

You see, Jack’s ditch never overflowed. His pipes never clogged. His trench rarely had to be redug by the Department of Highways. No overgrown weeds or scraggly alders dared make their appearance. No rocks, frost-hoven from a cold winter, or mud, loosened by spring rains, blocked the steady flow of water in front of Jack’s house. At the first sign of rain or storm or spring thaw there was Jack with his trusty shovel, diligently ensuring that his small part of the world was free from flood and debris.

I can’t help but wonder if some of the devastation caused by Hurricane Igor could have been avoided if there had been more Jacks around.

And I can’t help but wonder what childhood memory I would have instead of falling into a sewer ditch in Cornerbrook with my brother. Not one of my more pleasant memories, I can assure you. Neither of us had listened after being told repeatedly by mother and father and great-aunt and great-uncle to stay away from the ditch and our camper, which was parked parallel to the ditch. Not heeding anyone’s word and fully believing that nothing bad was going to happen to us, my brother and I decided that it would be great fun to jump on the bumper of the camper and promptly slipped off and fell – actually, rolled – into the sewer ditch. Crying and reeking and dying of shame, we shuffled our way into Aunt Anna’s and Uncle Cec’s house, where we were quickly admonished, ridiculed, bathed at arm’s length, soothed with hugs and given bananas. (Looking back, I think the bananas were a desperate ploy to get us to stop bawling so much, as it is very hard to screech when your mouth is full.) After all was said and done, Uncle Cec took me on his lap in his old armchair and gave me a good talking to about listening to adults, and then gave me a little burgundy box filled with scripture cards. I spent many hours diligently reading those cards and rearranging them and sorting them in different ways – alphabetical, biblical order, by colour….I still have them.

If only Jack had lived in Cornerbrook.

The memory of his diligence is Jack’s legacy to me. His diligence in that mere two feet by twenty feet ditch kept his little parcel of earth free from whatever vagaries Mother Nature threw his way. Everytime I pass by his ditch I am reminded that there are so many things I could be more diligent about. Prayer and scripture study are two that come immediately to mind, but there are other things, too. I could be more prepared for emergencies. I could keep more food in my house. I could learn how to be more self-sufficient with home and car repairs. The list goes on. I just need to be more diligent in being diligent.

Jack’s ditch is slowly filling in. The garden is overgrown. The windows in the house are broken. The paint is peeling. Yet, however small it may be, Jack’s legacy lives.