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.)
Okay, you got me choked up here. Beautiful post! I got Lori singing Willie McBride on my ipod and on my computer. I don’t know where I got it from, but if you want the full version, I can see if I can send it to you. Hugs, Judy.
Thanks Angie! Willie McBride is going on my iPhone RIGHT. NOW. Except I will never be able to listen to it in public. You should have seen me trying to edit the MP3 – oh me nerves! Thank you Kleenex. I do have the full length version of her song but Lori is looking into using the song to support a worthy cause. I decided to leave readers with just a taste of it. 🙂
Cool! Thanks again for reading and sharing Bruce. It means a lot to me.
Judy—-So well written; a tear jerker for sure!! Should br published. Thanks soooooo much. Love always—–Aunt Bea
Oh Aunt Bea! You’re gonna make me cry…. for at least the 12th time in the last 24 hours. 🙂 I’m so glad you liked it. And you must be sooooooo proud of Lori. With love and BIG HUGS – Judy
A very moving heartfelt post, so beautifully written thanks Judy xx Miss you
Hey Roomie!! How are you doing? One of the things I was thinking about on Remembrance Day were some of the stories you shared about working as a police officer. I can TOTALLY picture you breaking up a fight between a couple of big brutes. Thank you for your kind words. 🙂 I miss you too! xo
Good post, my Grandfather served and was seriously wounded during WWII. He never once went to an Armistace (old people term) Day ceremony, but you could always find him outside by himself on 11 Nov doing his own thing, much the same as you. Look us up next time you’re in Halifax, we’d all love to see you. Cheers.
PS. Your cousin has an awesome voice.
Hey Danny, what a nice surprise! It’s been way too long. I really wish I could have made it to the reunion – is it much different now that it’s no longer 723? Half the time I can’t believe that I did it, that I was a soldier – even if it wasn’t very long. I never really did get the hang of cam nets (or even filling generators!), but I certainly hit the jackpot when I got to work with you guys.
Thank you for sharing about your Grandfather. Remembrance Day must mean a lot to you. I just found out from my Aunt Jean that my Great-Great Uncle died in WWI at Vimy or Beaumont-Hamel. I wouldn’t have known about your Grandfather or my Uncle if I hadn’t written what I first thought was an embarrassing moment.
Thanks for writing Danny and I’ll definitely look you and the gang up the next time I’m in Halifax. Take care!
p.s. You’re right – Lori has an absolutely awesome voice – always gives me goosebumps.
Hi Judy, I want to thank you for the wonderful post, Anyone who knows you well, will know that its a Judy moment and yes in reading it ,it really touched a spot , Funny how time goes by but in you sharing something this special its like time has not gone by since I last saw you, god bless, keep writing , the other blogger is right in saying that you have a gift in how you presented this amazing and tear filled story. I sort of hate to cry but I love to feel and you made me do both,
Thank you, Tony
Awwwww Tony – thank you! I’m glad you read it AND liked it. Were you in KAF when Lori sang there? It was during a Team Canada visit in March (I think) 2008. Blue Rodeo came as well.
I hope you didn’t cry too much – it’s exhausting! I hope you’re doing well and who knows – maybe we’ll cross paths again in another far off land! Take care my friend.
Hey Judy — I just found your blog after looking for you on the web. I love your posts and I am totally intrigued by what you’re doing these days. How come no more posts after Rememberance Day? I’d love to read more. Are you ever in Toronto these days? If you do come this way, look me up. Do you still have your motorcycle? Emily