Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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The Poet Boy Remembered

Remembrance Day. Lest we forget. Let us  not forget.

Their sacrifice. Their honour. Their duty to country. Their names.

Let us not forget.

My father went off to war when he was a boy. He went off and fought and came home and seldom spoke of those years again.

The following is the unedited version of a shorter Op-Ed I wrote that was published in the Calgary Herald several years ago. I share it here in memory of my father, and all the sons and daughters, boys and girls, men and women, who have gone off to war to never return. I share it here to remind me to never forget my father who was once a poet boy.

The Poet Boy

When the poet boy was sixteen, he lied about his age and ran off to war. It was a war he was too young to understand. Or know why he was fighting. When the guns were silenced and the victors and the vanquished carried off their dead and wounded, the poet boy was gone. In his stead, there stood a man. An angry man. A wounded man. The man who would become my father.

By the time of my arrival, the final note in a quartet of baby-boomer children, the poet boy was deeply buried beneath the burden of an unforgettable war and the dark moods that permeated my father’s being with the density of storm clouds blocking the sun. Occasionally, on a holiday or a walk in the woods, the sun would burst through and signs of the poet boy would seep out from beneath the burden of the past. Sometimes, like letters scrambled in a bowl of alphabet soup that momentarily made sense of a word drifting across the surface, images of the poet boy appeared in a note or a letter my father wrote me. For that one brief moment a light would be cast on what was lost and then suddenly, with the deftness of a croupier sweeping away the dice, the words would disappear as the angry man came sweeping back with the ferocity of winter rushing in from the north.

I spent my lifetime looking for the words that would make the poet boy appear, but time ran out when my father’s heart gave up its fierce beat to the silence of eternity. It was a massive coronary. My mother said he was angry when the pain hit him. Angry, but unafraid. She wasn’t allowed to call an ambulance. She wasn’t allowed to call a neighbor. He drove himself to the hospital and she sat helplessly beside him. As he crossed the threshold of the emergency room, he collapsed, never to awaken again. In his death, he was lost forever, leaving behind my anger for which I had no words.

On Remembrance Day, ten years after his death, I went in search of my father at the foot of the memorial to an unnamed soldier that stands in the middle of a city park. A trumpet played “Taps”. I stood at the edge of the crowd and fingered the felt of the bright red poppy I held between my thumb and fingers. It was a blustery day. A weak November sunshine peaked out from behind sullen grey clouds.  Bundled up against the cold, the crowd, young and old, silently approached the monument and placed their poppies on a ledge beneath the soldier’s feet.

I stood and watched and held back.

I wanted to understand the war. I wanted to find the father who might have been had the poet boy not run off to fight “the good war” as a commentator had called it earlier that morning on the radio. Where is the good in war, I wondered? I thought of soldiers falling, mother’s crying and anger never dying. I thought of the past, never resting, always remembered and I thought of my father, never forgotten. The poet boy who went to war and came home an angry man. In his anger, life became the battlefield upon which he fought to retain some sense of balance amidst the memories of a world gone mad.

Perhaps it is as George Orwell wrote in his novel, Nineteen Eighty-four:

“The very word ‘war’, therefore, has become misleading.  It would probably be accurate to say that by becoming continuous war has ceased to exist… War is Peace.”

For my father, anger became the peacetime of his world until his heart ran out of time and he lost all hope of finding the poetry within him.

There is still time for me.

On that cold November morning, I approach the monument. I stand at the bottom step and look at the bright red poppies lining the gun metal grey of the concrete base of the statue. Slowly, I take the first step up and then the second. I hesitate then reach forward and place my poppy amongst the blood red row lined up along the ledge.

I wait. I don’t want to leave. I want a sign. I want to know my father sees me.

I turn and watch a white-haired grandfather approach, his gloved right hand encasing the mitten covered hand of his granddaughter. Her bright curly locks tumble from around the edges of her white furry cap. Her pink overcoat is adorned with little white bunnies leaping along the bottom edge. She skips beside him, her smile wide, blue eyes bright.

They approach the monument, climb the few steps and stop beside me. The grandfather lets go of his granddaughter’s hand and steps forward to place his poppy on the ledge.  He stands for a moment, head bowed. The little girl turns to me, the poppy clasped between her pink mittens outstretched in front of her.

“Can you lift me up?” she asks me.

“Of course,” I reply.

I pick her up, facing her towards the statue.

Carefully she places the poppy in the empty spot beside her grandfather’s.

I place her gently back on the ground.

She flashes me a toothy grin and skips away to join her grandfather where he waits at the foot of the monument. She grabs his hand.

“Do you think your daddy will know which one is mine?” she asks.

The grandfather laughs as he leads her back into the gathered throng.

“I’m sure he will,” he replies.

I watch the little girl skip away with her grandfather. The wind gently stirs the poppies lining the ledge. I feel them ripple through my memories of a poet boy who once stood his ground and fell beneath the weight of war.

My father is gone from this world. The dreams he had, the promises of his youth were forever lost on the bloody tide of war that swept the poet boy away.  In his passing, he left behind a love of words born upon the essays and letters he wrote me throughout the years. Words of encouragement. Of admonishment. Words that inspired me. Humored me. Guided me. Touched me. Words that will never fade away.

I stand at the base of the monument and look up at the soldier mounted on its pedestal.  Perhaps he was once a poet boy hurrying off to war to become a man. Perhaps he too came back from war an angry man fearful of letting the memories die lest the gift of his life be forgotten.

I turn away and leave my poppy lying at his feet. I don’t know if my father will know which is mine. I don’t know if poppies grow where he has gone. But standing at the feet of the Unknown Soldier, the wind whispering through the poppies circling him in a blood red river, I feel the roots of the poet boy stir within me. He planted the seed that became my life.

Long ago my father went off to war and became a man. His poetry was silenced but still the poppies blow, row on row. They mark the place where poet boys went off to war and never came home again.

The war is over. In loving memory of my father and those who fought beside him, I let go of anger. It is time for me to make peace.

 

 

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it is in not forgetting, we remember

poppy“We often look at the society we live in [in Canada] as being a peaceful and tranquil place where we can go about our lives. It’s not always evident, except on Remembrance Day, as to how it came about. Taking part in battles, fighting for our freedoms, being involved in peacekeeping missions and working through our international partners such as United Nations, make a more peaceful world as well as a secured Canada. I am thankful every day for that sacrifice, that service – putting themselves in harm’s way to keep our society largely democratic and free. We owe them [veterans] a deep gratitude – it’s up to us to remember that on November 11 that this didn’t just happen. People fought and gave up their lives and were committed to the cause, to see that we live in this age of peace and tranquility here at home.”

 -Kent Hehr, MP Calgary Centre and Minister of Veterans Affairs

It is in not forgetting, we remember

Guest Blog Written by Darcy Halber

Since I was little I’ve worn a poppy in the first two weeks of November, pinned to my coat just over my heart. I stood in the Remembrance Day ceremonies in the gym at school while someone read aloud “In Flanders Fields” and our school band played “The Last Post.” I held my minute of silence at that eleventh hour and felt an ache in my heart for those I could never really thank, who sacrificed for a generation they would never meet. I remember wondering if our offering of gratitude was enough.

As I graduated and left school, I would occasionally wear my poppy and sometimes I would remember to go to a Remembrance Day ceremony. I would see the displays in the malls and glance at them as I walked by. Sometimes they would stir me, other days they blended in with the scenery and Christmas decorations. If the T.V. was on and the news broadcasting a ceremony, I would pause on it for a few seconds before moving on.

But despite my vague commitment, every year on November 11th, at that eleventh hour, I remembered my moment of silence and that familiar ache would settle into my chest.

Why, I couldn’t tell you. Or myself for that matter. No one in my family had ever fought in a war. There used to be a military base in the small B.C. town that I grew up in, but it closed and moved up north when I was young. Perhaps it was because of all those years in grade school, when they packed us all into the gymnasium and gave us no choice but to remember and to reflect on those who fought for a freedom we took for granted. Or perhaps it was because my mother, ever a scholar and indignant that it was no longer part of our school curriculum, had us each read Erich Maria Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” in our grade 7 year.

Perhaps.

And then two and a half years ago, I met the man who would become my husband. And I knew.

I met a man who enlisted at seventeen years of age, who became part of a Special Operations Unit at eighteen, who deployed when he was nineteen and who turned twenty in the middle of a desert in a country whose people were not free. I met a man who had seen 5 friends die before the age of twenty-one, who at twenty-two had to present a folded flag to the wife of a friend who would never come back and who escorted a fellow warrior’s body to his burial amidst name calling protesters shouting for “peace.”

I met a man who joined for love of country, but who stayed because of the man to his left and to his right. I met a man who came back quieter than he was before he left, a man who accepts thanks, not because he considers himself deserving, but for those who can no longer accept the thanks themselves. Who has good days and sometimes bad days when the memories become too much.

I met a man who helped me understand that ache in my heart for men and women I didn’t know. A man who helped me understand that I felt, not because I truly understand the value of my freedom, but because there were those before me who did. He helped me understand that I mourn for those like my husband who have buried friends, and for those wives who have buried husbands all so that I would not have to.

He helped me to understand that it is not a crime to not truly understand the incredible value of our freedom. How could we? We’ve never had to fight for it.

Someone else did.

He helped me to understand that our crime is not in not understanding.

It is in forgetting.

So remember that your freedom is not free. Hold that ache in your heart and let it help you to remember those we can never truly thank.

And let that be enough.

***************************************

Darcy Halber came to work on the Comms team at the Calgary Homeless Foundation earlier this year. She is smart, funny, talented, kind, generous of spirit and thoughtful.

She wrote this blog post for the CHF blog and when I asked if I could share it here, she graciously agreed. Thank you Darcy for your heart, your words and your reminder to listen to the ache in our hearts so that we never forget the cost and the value of our freedom.


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The Poet Boy Remembered

Remembrance Day. Lest we forget. Let us  not forget.

Their sacrifice. Their honour. Their duty to country. Their names.

Let us not forget.

My father went off to war when he was a boy. He went off and fought and came home and seldom spoke of those years again.

The following is the unedited version of a Op-Ed that I had published in the Calgary Herald. I share it here in memory of my father, and all the sons and daughters, boys and girls, men and women, who have gone off to war to never return. I share it here to remind me to never forget my father who was once a poet boy.

The Poet Boy

When the poet boy was sixteen, he lied about his age and ran off to war. It was a war he was too young to understand. Or know why he was fighting. When the guns were silenced and the victors and the vanquished carried off their dead and wounded, the poet boy was gone. In his stead, there stood a man. An angry man. A wounded man. The man who would become my father.

By the time of my arrival, the final note in a quartet of baby-boomer children, the poet boy was deeply buried beneath the burden of an unforgettable war and the dark moods that permeated my father’s being with the density of storm clouds blocking the sun. Occasionally, on a holiday or a walk in the woods, the sun would burst through and signs of the poet boy would seep out from beneath the burden of the past. Sometimes, like letters scrambled in a bowl of alphabet soup that momentarily made sense of a word drifting across the surface, images of the poet boy appeared in a note or a letter my father wrote me. For that one brief moment a light would be cast on what was lost and then suddenly, with the deftness of a croupier sweeping away the dice, the words would disappear as the angry man came sweeping back with the ferocity of winter rushing in from the north.

I spent my lifetime looking for the words that would make the poet boy appear, but time ran out when my father’s heart gave up its fierce beat to the silence of eternity. It was a massive coronary. My mother said he was angry when the pain hit him. Angry, but unafraid. She wasn’t allowed to call an ambulance. She wasn’t allowed to call a neighbor. He drove himself to the hospital and she sat helplessly beside him. As he crossed the threshold of the emergency room, he collapsed, never to awaken again. In his death, he was lost forever, leaving behind my anger for which I had no words.

On Remembrance Day, ten years after his death, I went in search of my father at the foot of the memorial to an unnamed soldier that stands in the middle of a city park. A trumpet played “Taps”. I stood at the edge of the crowd and fingered the felt of the bright red poppy I held between my thumb and fingers. It was a blustery day. A weak November sunshine peaked out from behind sullen grey clouds.  Bundled up against the cold, the crowd, young and old, silently approached the monument and placed their poppies on a ledge beneath the soldier’s feet.

I stood and watched and held back.

I wanted to understand the war. I wanted to find the father who might have been had the poet boy not run off to fight “the good war” as a commentator had called it earlier that morning on the radio. Where is the good in war, I wondered? I thought of soldiers falling, mother’s crying and anger never dying. I thought of the past, never resting, always remembered and I thought of my father, never forgotten. The poet boy who went to war and came home an angry man. In his anger, life became the battlefield upon which he fought to retain some sense of balance amidst the memories of a world gone mad.

Perhaps it is as George Orwell wrote in his novel, Nineteen Eighty-four:

“The very word ‘war’, therefore, has become misleading.  It would probably be accurate to say that by becoming continuous war has ceased to exist… War is Peace.”

For my father, anger became the peacetime of his world until his heart ran out of time and he lost all hope of finding the poetry within him.

There is still time for me.

On that cold November morning, I approach the monument. I stand at the bottom step and look at the bright red poppies lining the gun metal grey of the concrete base of the statue. Slowly, I take the first step up and then the second. I hesitate then reach forward and place my poppy amongst the blood red row lined up along the ledge.

I wait. I don’t want to leave. I want a sign. I want to know my father sees me.

I turn and watch a white-haired grandfather approach, his gloved right hand encasing the mitten covered hand of his granddaughter. Her bright curly locks tumble from around the edges of her white furry cap. Her pink overcoat is adorned with little white bunnies leaping along the bottom edge. She skips beside him, her smile wide, blue eyes bright.

They approach the monument, climb the few steps and stop beside me. The grandfather lets go of his granddaughter’s hand and steps forward to place his poppy on the ledge.  He stands for a moment, head bowed. The little girl turns to me, the poppy clasped between her pink mittens outstretched in front of her.

“Can you lift me up?” she asks me.

“Of course,” I reply.

I pick her up, facing her towards the statue.

Carefully she places the poppy in the empty spot beside her grandfather’s.

I place her gently back on the ground.

She flashes me a toothy grin and skips away to join her grandfather where he waits at the foot of the monument. She grabs his hand.

“Do you think your daddy will know which one is mine?” she asks.

The grandfather laughs as he leads her back into the gathered throng.

“I’m sure he will,” he replies.

I watch the little girl skip away with her grandfather. The wind gently stirs the poppies lining the ledge. I feel them ripple through my memories of a poet boy who once stood his ground and fell beneath the weight of war.

My father is gone from this world. The dreams he had, the promises of his youth were forever lost on the bloody tide of war that swept the poet boy away.  In his passing, he left behind a love of words born upon the essays and letters he wrote me throughout the years. Words of encouragement. Of admonishment. Words that inspired me. Humored me. Guided me. Touched me. Words that will never fade away.

I stand at the base of the monument and look up at the soldier mounted on its pedestal.  Perhaps he was once a poet boy hurrying off to war to become a man. Perhaps he too came back from war an angry man fearful of letting the memories die lest the gift of his life be forgotten.

I turn away and leave my poppy lying at his feet. I don’t know if my father will know which is mine. I don’t know if poppies grow where he has gone. But standing at the feet of the Unknown Soldier, the wind whispering through the poppies circling him in a blood red river, I feel the roots of the poet boy stir within me. He planted the seed that became my life.

Long ago my father went off to war and became a man. His poetry was silenced but still the poppies blow, row on row. They mark the place where poet boys went off to war and never came home again.

The war is over. In loving memory of my father and those who fought beside him, I let go of anger. It is time for me to make peace.