Poppies and Coffee: A Remembrance Day Confession

Poppies and coffee and a couple of Reid women trying to do good. Lori in Afghanistan 2008 (photo by Yannick Beauvalet) and I in Bosnia 2000 (photo by Denise Dowdy). Timmies photo by dautruong52 at www.everycup.ca.

Poppies and coffee and a couple of Reid women trying to do good. Lori in Afghanistan 2008 (photo by Yannick Beauvalet) and Me in Bosnia 2000 (photo by Denise Dowdy). Timmies photo by dautruong52 at http://www.everycup.ca.

The day before Remembrance Day I changed my profile picture to one of the last ones taken of me as a Canadian Forces soldier. The photo was snapped at Camp Black Bear in Velika Kladusa, Bosnia during the fall of 2000 and I’m wearing my very first medal as I stand in front of a painted map of Canada, positioned just so you can see Newfoundland behind me.

I posted that photo on Facebook because it was almost Remembrance Day and I was proud to have been a soldier. I also missed all my friends from those days, so I tagged everyone I could think of from my home unit in Halifax and some of the people I worked with overseas and elsewhere. Their response was fantastic! I heard back from so many friends and I checked in a few times on the morning of the 11th to say hi back and “Like” all the great posts about Remembrance Day. Although I wasn’t heading downtown for the ceremony, I knew good and well the importance of Remembrance Day and I was going to make sure I had my own meaningful moment of silence at 11 am.

And so it was at one minute before the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, I found myself in line at a drive-thru of Tim Hortons.

I was a Canadian Forces veteran who had the honour of serving as a cenotaph guard twice in my seven years in the Reserves and here I was at 11 am on Remembrance Day nosing my car along to order two fucking double-doubles and a breakfast sandwich.

I couldn’t believe I forgot. How do you do that? Yes, it was a busy day and my sister and I were scrambling to finish painting her basement, but my GOD – hundreds of thousands of Canadians across the country paying their respects to the men and women who sacrificed so much, and I’m in a Timmies drive-thru? Seriously?

It was too late to pull out; at least two cars were already behind me. Live 88.5 had switched to a Remembrance Day montage on the radio, Tim Hortons had stopped serving customers and I started tearing up. I get emotional about Remembrance Day anyway, but I was also feeling bad about forgetting. By the time the moment of silence descended I was openly crying. Oh good Lord, do I have to do this here? I thought about Afghanistan and Bosnia and my colleagues who witnessed the horrors of Rwanda. Finally the moment of silence lifted. And then came Willie McBride, also known as The Green Fields of France, No Man’s Land or as I apparently remember it, The Saddest Song in the World.

I have previously mentioned a few songs that still make me cry, but I had completely forgotten about Willie McBride. Let me be clear, Willie  McBride doesn’t make me cry; it makes me sob. Uncontrollably. Not just because of the haunting melody or the tragic story about the losses of war, but because I heard my cousin Lori Anna sing the same song beautifully in Afghanistan – a truly memorable event at which I was also sobbing uncontrollably because I couldn’t stop thinking of my father and the wonderful gift Lori gave our family a couple of years earlier, just ten days before Dad passed away.

I don’t know how I did it, but once the line of cars started moving and with Willie McBride still playing in the background I ordered two coffees and a breakfast sandwich. With sausage.

I wasn’t in the clear yet though – I still had to pay and make a run for it, all without making eye-contact with the cashier at the window. I did my best, but there was no disguising my wrung-out face nor the two piss-holes in the snow that were my eyes just ten minutes earlier.

I was drained when I got to Kelley’s with the loot. We sat down with Mom as I told the story amid their choruses of “Oh no!” and “Oh dear!”. Mom couldn’t remember Willie McBride so I found it on iTunes and we listened to a short, tinny version on my phone. All three of us started crying. We talked about poppies (How are you supposed to dispose of them with reverence? Is it wrong to wear them on your hat instead of over your heart?) and about Lori (Did you know she sang at Beaumont-Hamel and Vimy last week? We miss her!).

We didn’t talk about Dad and we didn’t talk about soldiers or veterans, but it was there. Unspoken but felt, pushing against our silence and our hearts. How strange it is that we do often forget something so big and so painful. And stranger still that we can almost simultaneously forget and always remember that loss.

Ceremony is important. It brings us together and can shape our individual experiences into one elemental emotion and event. Most ceremonies take place with honour guards, flags and crowds, but sometimes ceremony shows up over coffee and a breakfast  sandwich and a sad, haunting song… even alone in a car at a Tim Hortons drive-thru.

(There are many covers of Willie McBride/No Man’s Land, but the one sung by the wonderful Lori Anna Reid, is simply the best. A few others think so as well. Listen to an excerpt of Lori’s Willie McBride below.)

Willie McBride by Lori Anna Reid

De-cluttering and Colouring

I just returned to camp this evening after nine days off at home in Ottawa and I’m exhausted! I’ve never been so busy on my days off.

I had big plans on working on my blog and instead I plunged full steam ahead in de-cluttering my sister’s rec room and then helping her with painting it. Kelley has done a great job in colouring/painting her living room, kitchen, dining room and hallways so I wanted to learn more about it by helping with her basement.

I also helped out my mom in the final push of de-cluttering her bedroom and then putting up some pictures in her room and a few around the house.

These may or may not be the colours we painted Kelley’s basement.

I’ve never seen Mom so excited about her bedroom before. I should have totally done before and after shots – her room looks lovely. And over the years Mom has collected some nice pictures. Too bad we didn’t hang them sooner.

Kelley and I spent a few long days on her basement. When I left all the walls had been painted, and newly painted shelves mounted. Thank goodness Rod was there to hook up the TV and all its many peripherals. I think I would have had better luck solving a Rubik’s cube (and thirty years later I still haven’t solved that one).

I should also mention that I left Kelley’s basement in a mess. I wish I had one more day just to help put everything away and have some fun shopping for the perfect pillows. We figured the right coloured cushions would be just what we needed to pull together all the paint colours and the forest-green ratty sofa. The right cushions and a strategically placed throw can provide fantastic camouflage for an outdated and mismatched couch.

Hmmm… now that I’m looking at these colours, I see some resemblance to a certain blog theme. Oh my. I certainly didn’t do that on purpose.

Good night, and good luck with rest of the rec room Kelley!

Sleep, how I love thee

I’ve just set a new record. It’s my last day at work before heading home for a week and a bit, and I finished by 8:45 pm.

Holy Toledo, I still have time to hit the bar!

But I won’t. Instead I’ve come back to my room to do a little packing, a little sipping (red wine) and little explaining.

While most of the working world asks “Is it Friday yet?”, for eight years I’ve been working with folks who ask “How much time you got left?” or just “How much longer?” like we were prisoners serving a sentence.

I laughed when I first started here in northern Alberta a year ago. Twenty-one days? That’s nothing! Try ninety days or one hundred and fourteen.

Everything is relative of course. I still remember one of our travel coordinators in Kandahar who respectfully listened as one of our colleagues complained about how long he had left before heading back home for his month off.

“Two more months?” said Waqas. “How terrible for you.”

His tone was the perfect combination of polite and what-the-fuck-do-you-know-about-serving-time-you-privileged-twat. I think he still had seven months to go in his eleven month rotation.

So why do we do it? The quickest and most common answer might be money, but for me it’s more than that. It’s having big chunks of time off to do something. It’s unfortunate that it took me until now – when I only get one week off a month –  to have a real goal for my time off. Oh, how I long for the days when I could work for three months and get a whole month off to spend how I please, while earning a whole whack of Aeroplan points in paid travel which always started or terminated with a quick jaunt to Dubai – just long enough to shake out the dust or snow from my shoes.

Somehow making a pit stop at Walmart after landing in Fort Mac just isn’t the same.

Anyway, I do find the twenty-one days here harder. For one thing, no days off. It’s twenty-one days straight, minimum ten hours a day and I almost always work more than that. I could totally do this job for three months in a row if only I could have one day off a week, or at the very least one morning off. I am sooooo looking forward to sleeping in when I get home this time (“I miss you Sleep! I’ll be there soon!”).

And tonight I finished at 8:45. I didn’t get all my work done, not even close. But if I had stayed until midnight it still wouldn’t have gotten done and I’d be toast. Which I pretty much have been my last two weeks here. Between work and the revelation that writing on-line could be a good thing, I’ve had very little downtime. I’m even looking forward to the flight home – and that’s saying something when you’re flying economy on Air Canada, especially when you’ve booked Tango and can’t get your hands on any of those damn status miles! But I digress.

I’m a daydreamer and there are times I’m quite content doing absolutely nothing. Sure sometimes I get restless and want to mingle or maybe stumble into a massage, but my overactive imagination is always there to keep me company. Hmmm… I wonder if it’s time to take a time out?

Still, I’m glad I passed up on the bar. That glass of wine really hit me. I gotta tell ya, that little bed over there within’ arm’s reach looks mighty tempting.

“You come here often?”