Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Remembrance Day

Today is Remembrance Day in Canada and, since it's a bank holiday, I have the day off (although dh does not). I slept in & have been puttering around the house all day, doing a bit of this & a bit of that, not quite accomplishing much, or anything that I thought I would, but enjoying the day that is all too quickly flying by, nevertheless.

When I was growing up on the Prairies, in the late 1960s & 1970s, Remembrance Day was a solemn occasion. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, was closed (although I believe this is not the case any more). Stores could be fined for selling anything more than bread & milk. I believe we had the day off school, but with everything closed & the weather usually bad, there was nothing much to do except stay at home and maybe watch TV. Of course, we only had access to one television channel (the CBC) until I was 14, & most of the day would be devoted to Remembrance Day programming, including the broadcast of the ceremonies in Ottawa at 11 a.m., with endless war documentaries to follow in the afternoon.

The day before, we would have an assembly at school, with readings & sometimes skits. Then there would be the traditional two-minute silence, during which someone would inevitably burst into giggles, only to become the object of a withering glare from the nearest teacher.

As a teenager who played alto saxophone in the school band, I would often be obliged to attend and perform at the services at the local cenotaph, or war memorial. Every small town of any size in Canada has such a memorial, usually made of granite or marble, on which are inscribed the names of local soldiers who gave their lives in the First and Second World Wars -- and sadly, there are many. (I can never hear "Abide With Me" without flashing back to frozen fingers & lips on metal keys & mouthpieces.)

When I moved to southern Ontario, I was shocked to find out that all the stores were open (although banks and other federally regulated institutions were closed). I could go SHOPPING on Remembrance Day!! And I have done so -- although never quite without guilt. I've also spent the day baking cookies, scrapbooking and at the spa.

But whenever I'm at home on Remembrance Day -- as I am today -- I pause to watch the service from the National War Memorial in Ottawa on CBC, as I always do whenever I'm at home. I am not aware that the United States marks Remembrance Day in quite the same way as the Commonwealth countries do. One of my high school girlfriends' husbands served in Afghanistan (early in the conflict) as part of a UN mission, & noted that the poppy was not something the Americans he met on the base were familiar with. This Wikipedia piece describes the ceremony & the significance of the poppy quite well.

You really have to see it to appreciate it, however, & although it has been many years since I attended a cenotaph service, I would love to attend the one in Ottawa some day. (I have been to Ottawa, & the National War Memorial is truly awe-inspiring.) The sight of the old soldiers saluting and then, after the ceremony, marching down Wellington Street; the bagpiper's lament, the trumpeting of the Last Post, the reading of the Act of Remembrance and the children's choir singing "In Flanders Fields" (the only poem committed to memory in my school days that I can still recite by heart -- dh challenged me to do so this weekend, & was impressed!!) all move me to tears.

Although I am hearing laments that fewer people are wearing poppies these days, I still see lots of them around. Right around Halloween, old soldiers & others from the Royal Canadian Legion appear in the underground concourse linking the office towers of downtown Toronto, selling poppies for whatever donation you care to make, with proceeds going to various veterans' causes. Seeing them brings a lump to my throat & I always feel a wave of guilt, although I can never quite explain why. No politician or official would dare to appear in public, or on Canadian television in early November, without wearing a poppy on his or her lapel.

The only problem with the poppies is that they never stay put. Yesterday, venturing into the city, I made sure I had my poppy firmly fastened to the lapel of my jacket as the train pulled into Union Station. Ten minutes later, I noticed it was gone. Bought another one from one of the concourse vendors, went to a cafe for a latte & croissant, & as soon as I left the restaurant, it was gone too. (I gave up after that & am spending Remembrance Day guiltily poppyless.)

Remembrance Day has had a slightly different meaning for me these past 10 years. November 14th was Katie's original due date, and although the due date kept getting changed as the pregnancy progressed (and finally ended in August), the 14th has always been the date that stuck in my head. It's never held quite the same significance or pain for me that August 5th & 7th do, but it's still a landmark date. I always try to imagine the birthday parties that probably would have been held this weekend.

Remembrance Day 1998, though, was still pretty painful. The 14th was on a Saturday that year, but I remember being at home on Nov. 11th that year, treating it like my own personal day of Katie Remembrance. Going through all her things again, posting to the new friends I'd made on my e-mail list. I've never quite been able to bring myself to ask for the 14th off work -- coming as it does so soon after the 11th, & at our busiest time of year -- so the 11th to me is also a day of personal remembrance. I watched an interview with this year's Silver Cross Mother on TV this morning, and while our losses are so very different, I feel a bond of understanding at a deep level, of what it's like to live with grief.

They shall grow not old,
as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them,
nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.


  1. Thanks! I really appreciate learning more about Canadian commemorations (lots of veterans in my family) on this, our Veterans Day.

    Holding up a poppy for your Katie, too...

  2. Remembering Katie...isn't it so true that we develop our own tethers to dates?

    Today is Veteran's day here too, although things don't close like they used to (even when I was a kid more things used to close). In May is Memorial day, which is more geared toward those who died, Vet's day is for all living and passed (even after their service) Vets. I too used to march in the parades...

  3. What an interesting post. I appreciated learning more about how Canadians commemorate this day. It seems that your remembrances encompass more of the community than do ours. Other than government offices, not too much here is closed on our Veterans Day, and not only do stores not close, but the day is an occasion for all kinds of sales.

    I will be thinking of you as you remember Katie on what was supposed to be her 10th birthday this week.

  4. I will be remembering Katie as well.... Be gentle with yourself.

  5. :( I'll remember with you.

    P.S. I know this is TOTALLY not the point of your post but I have to say, I love reading about the similarities and differences between Canadian and US holidays!

  6. I live in the US now, where the poppies are very different ... I miss the Canadian ones. Use an earring back to keep it in place - I wore the same one for years. (Then didn't bring it to the US with me!) I also lived through "the change" in Southern Ontario where everything was opened up. At first I rebelled against it. Then I found myself in a mall at 11:00 a.m. and everything stopped for 2 minutes and everyone intentionally observed something they may have ignored at home. I was glad.

  7. They hand out little tissue paper poppies here. I was feeling very sick that day - so we didn't venture out to the store, so no poppies for us.

    Veteran's day is important to us personally here - so many of my family, close and distant have and are serving. I have pictures of family in arms dating back to the Civil War and wars coming forward.

    From our days on spals together - gentle good wishes I'll be thinking of you and Katie this weekend.

  8. Thanks for sharing this, Lori. Remembrance Day (I still prefer that term to Veterans Day) always left me feeling somber, although I had no family lost in the war. I always attributed my sadness to watching the WWI episodes of "Upstairs, Downstairs" when I was in high school. There was something so tragic about the way that modern warfare took the world by surprise.

    Like you, though, November was my due-date month, and Ivy's expected arrival the day before Thanksgiving at first gave the month a special anticipation. No one else in my family was born in November, and Ivy's birthday would be the beginning of the holiday season. Her preterm birth in July changed all of that, of course, and now November is just one more month to endure a sadness that has mostly been unacknowledged or forgotten.

    Five years ago, Remembrance Day took on more significance for me: on November 10 my first and favorite cat, Cosmo, died at age 20. I had spent more day-to-day time with that precious cat than I had in any human relationship, even longer than my parents, who both died young. Cosmo had been a source of joy and constancy in my life, especially though IF and loss. When we buried him on November 11, it was as if a sustaining light in my heart went suddenly black and cold.

    I've been reading your blog regularly for months, Lori, and I'm frequently moved by the eloquence and richness of your words and memories. Reading about Katie's "anniversary" year has been especially touching.

    Sorry for the extra-long comment - this is your blog, not mine - but your post resonated with me in so many ways.

    (you know me from the support-site-that-isn't - edit this out if you need to)

    P.S. I would wear a poppy in November if I could find one. No one seems to sell them in our city anymore. Maybe I'll have to import one from Canada next year.

  9. I will be thinking of you tomorrow. I'm sorry for your loss.