It began as Armistice Day, to remember the veterans of World War 1, the great war, the war to end all wars. Armistice was signed in a rail car on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year 1918. But after all, it wasn't the war to end all wars, and after world war 11 it was changed to Veterans Day, to remember all veterans from all wars.
I remember they always sold, or gave away, crepe paper poppies, beautiful red ones, for veterans day. This of course, because of the poem by Captain John McCrae who wrote "In Flanders Fields". Flanders fields encompased a huge area where many battles were fought, and many thousands of soldiers died. Legend has it that all the soldiers feet churning up the muddy soil here, aerated the ground and in spring thousands of brilliant red poppies sprang up, blooming and beautiful.
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.
Captain McCrae, by the way, did not live to see his poem published, but also died during the war. The paper poppies were to symbolize this great sacrifice, red for blood, the black heart of the poppy for grief, and the green stem for hope. There is a Somero buried in Flanders fields. Some where there is a photograph of it. I have seen it. All those white crosses, row on row, and one says Somero.
I once recieved a gift of a poppy. A gift of more than a poppy. Let me tell you a story....
When the cold November rain pelts on the car window, and the pavement and the buildings shine wetly in the city lights, I can close my eyes and remember. Its funny how out of so insignificant a thing can come so vividly a memory of a long lost thing. The years and the miles stretch by so quickly, you don't stop to remember. Rainswept fall evenings bring a glimpse, a half forgotten scene, and then faster and faster they crowd upwards, full blown.
I was only a girl, playing at being grown up. Newly married, my world colored with love and
happiness. I can smile, now, at how little I knew then of life. Sometimes glancing at the man beside me, I can feel that after so many years, he can feel what I am thinking. We went to Portland alot in those days. We had spent our honeymoon high up in the Portland Hilton. We often went on Fridays nights to pick up my sister who worked right down town.
This was the kind of night it had been. A damp, chilly, rainy Pacific Northwest fall evening. Dark came early. We had crossed the Columbia on slick, wet pavement. We would park the car and sit and wait for Mary to get out of work, the radio softly playing love songs, watching the people go by. A man had a little three sided shelter where he sold newspaperson the corner. I don't remember how we figured out that he was blind, but we were fascinated with the way he handled the steady stream of customers that bought his papers. How he took money and made change. My father in law was blind, so we felt a kindred spirit with him.
We would buy a paper from him and talk with him for a bit. His name was Bob. He wasn't exactly unfriendly. You couldn't say he was angry or sad, really. It was just as if he was unhappy, and he wanted to stay that way. Well, it didn't seem very pleasant, out there in all kinds of weather in his yellow slicker and his worn out shoes.
It was Bob, who had a box of blood red paper poppies near his change box. I still remember how he handed one to me, how I took it, how cold my hands were as I twisted the stem around my jacket button. We would buy a paper and go sit in our warm car, then go home to warmth and lights and supper at home. Where did he go? Did he have any of these things?
He was a lesson to me about thankfulness and not taking my life for granted. I would think about him through the week, wondering... I wore the red poppy on my jacket. One night he wasn't in his little shed. We went window shopping, kind of waiting for him to come back, so we could say hello and buy our paper. There was a little drug store with something in the window that caught our eye. When we went in, we saw Bob sitting at the lunch counter. His slicker was dripping wet, making a big puddle on the floor. His cane was leaning on the counter beside him. He was eating a bowl of steaming hot soup. I wanted to turn away, ashamed of myself for the fascination and horror with which I watched him. He was so clumsy. He made loud slurping noises. Things got knocked around.
We were holding hands. I felt Boones grip tighten. I looked up at him. His eyes were filled with tears. We turned around and left. Did Bob have anyone to love him and care for him? Yet somehow, I felt as though he did not wnat his life any other way.
You know what gift Bob gave me, besides that blood red poppy to remember veterans? He gifted me with a glimmer of understanding about Boones tender heart, that he has tried so hard to hide. He gave me the gift of knowing, that if you are brave enough to get close to blind, wet, ragged, uncouth people, you find out that they have touched your heart. They have made you more compassionate and understanding. They have showed you the gift of finding beauty in the ugly. They have given you blood red courage. The petals of which surround the blackness of grief and despair and make it beautiful. They give you green hope for a better tommorow. Perhaps a tomorrow that has no wars, no blindness, no cold rain.
Life isn't all warm and loving. Alot of it is dull and sordid. If I tell you this story, will it enrich you, will you understand? I wish you a veteran for a friend, a poppy, and a blind Bob....