The colour of poppies

A day or two ago, one of this city's newspapers rapped a local peace group's white poppy campaign for civilian war dead, disparaging it as "a bunch of hippies giving big group hug (sic) and hoping for peace." Editorial reaction elsewhere is nearly as churlish, leaning toward telling "the peaceniks" to butt out of the official red poppy drive. The Royal Canadian Legion is unamused. It apparently has the poppy copyrighted. And maybe poppyrighted.

One can find an individual veteran or two who sees nothing wrong with the idea, but most news seems to hold crankier quotes, working up a fine lather in the week before Remembrance Day. Discourse in this country has gotten impolite everywhere, not just in that asylum on the hill.

Canada's last veteran from that long-ago unpleasantness just died recently, but when I was a slightly younger coyote, there were still any number of people who had served in the First World War, living their lives. They dwelt on future walkers, wheelchairs and care homes rarely, if at all.

One, whom I happened across quite often as he hiked in the foothills near Calgary, was one of the most pacific men I have ever met. I don't think he ever raised his voice about anything. I do not recall that he spoke about his part in that conflict, either, except to mention that he'd spent two years at a sanitarium in southern Ontario, recovering from tuberculosis after the war ended. He also mentioned humourously, in passing, exactly once, how he and other soldiers in the trenches would amuse themselves holding cootie derbies and laying penny bets, after picking lice off of themselves to race up broomstraws. There wasn't much else amusing going on, obviously. He never spoke of war otherwise, and when others did around him, a quietly pained expression crossed his usually-happy face.

He always kept a red-flocked paper poppy pinned to the lapel of his topcoat. I, being a coyote, did not trouble myself as to why. But one who knew him told me he felt bound to honour his old comrades beyond November 11. And in the way it has with semimythical coyotes, the west wind told me even later that he had been invalided out of the trenches of northern Europe just at the end of the last miserable winter before the Battle of Passchendaele.

There's not much more to go on but supposition. But I think he may have been - by the simple good luck of nearly dying from tuberculosis at the right time - one of the few in his regiment to live after the generals ran it into the machine guns. And that he wanted, as long as he could, to carry the standard of their memory. On the unspoken evidence, he seemed to value civilian lives just as highly as military ones. I think he approved highly of peace. I rather suspect he would see no difference between white poppies and red ones. But then, we dogs are colourblind...


nursemyra said...

beautifully told

Merlin Durken said...

Eloquently stated, thanks Coyote. The Canadian Legion and the scum-sucking war mongers who hide behind them can kiss my defiant hippie ass, cuz I still believe this is the last word on the subject.

God, damn the hands of glory
That hold the bloody firebrand high
Close the book and end the story
Of how so many men have died
Let the world retain in memory
That mighty tongues tell mighty lies
And if mankind must have an enemy
Let it be his warlike pride

-- B. Cockburn