Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Remembrance Day in a Small Town

Late afternoon on the 10th of November when Husband starts looking for the new can of Never Dull, brings out the old toothbrush, the sliding thing he slips under medals to protect the ribbons, and last of all the Medals and the small and precious silver wings.

While he shines and polishes (the spitting comes later when he does the shoes) I re-sew the Squadron Emblem on the pocket of his jacket.

This is all in deference to our slower pace, - time was when Remembrance Day morning was a whirlwind of activity, but we move slower now, and find it best to start a day early.

As we prepare, the loss of Husband's two brothers in France and in Holland is ever present in our thoughts.

And I think of my father who was wounded at Cambrai a month before the signing of the Armistice in 1918, and how the effects of that wound left him walking with a cane for the last twenty years of his life.

Shortly after ten o'clock on the 11th Husband is looking pretty handsome and spiffy for an old Vet. He has received phone calls, e-mails and loving hugs from children who know how important this day has always been to him, and never fail to express their love and understanding.

We leave the house, hoping to get a parking spot close to where Husband will take part in the Remembrance Day service by reading the Names of the Fallen and citing the Act of Remembrance.

There is a cold wind blowing. People begin to gather, well scarved and hatted -= many of them carrying wreaths. Friends and family stop to chat as we wait in the SUV for the first signs of the Parade. The crowd grows thicker (the owner of the town's grocery store says 400)

The Legion members who will conduct the service test the sound system and attend to last minute details around the Cenotaph.

There - we hear the music which accompanies the parade and led by red coated RCMP (no horses this year) the Colour Party, the Army Cadets, the Veterans who are still able to march, the Legion members, the Brownies and Guides and Cubs and Scouts, the Elks, the Royal Purples and other Service Club members all right turn on to the grass
and march across the park to the Cenotaph.

At one time the row of Veterans was long, and stretched for over a city block. Now there are only a handful in the Parade, a few more in wheelchairs and on crutches, but all intent on honouring those of their dead comrades who once, in the now distant past, were like brothers to them, still enshrined in their hearts.

The wind scatters leaves and causes collars to be raised. Everyone takes their place, and the service begins.

A wonderfully strong voice leads the singing of O Canada. There are prayers, and a poem written by a young student in the high school.

The Army Cadets who stand at each corner of the Cenotaph raise their Arms and Husband reads the Names of the Fallen Comrades.

The Bugler plays the Last Post.

The two minutes of silence is poignant, and heavy with emotion.

And after the Lament and Reveille,

The Act of Remembrance.

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, or the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we shall remember them.

The tribute to the Fallen, the Laying of the Wreaths, the reading of a Remembrance poem and the singing of 'O God, our Help in Ages Past'.

The wind comes in gusts and chases the clouds around the sky, creating small gaps that allow a little sunshine through. Fingers and toes grow cold but people remain to the end, as they honour lost loved ones and those who died to make the present moments possible.

After 'The Queen' the parade marches off, - the crowd disperses and makes their way to the Legion Hall. Husband and I linger to talk to family and old friends.

When we arrive at the Hall we find a great long line-up of shivery people waiting for Hot Rums....

There is Beef Stew and wonderful warm Chili provided by the Legion.

Four long rows of tables are crowded with adults, - next door at the Elks Home the children have cookies and cocoa. People linger, talking, exchanging memories, up-dating news. Gradually the crowd thins. Some people go home, - others make their way downstairs for an afternoon of comradeship, old time tunes, dancing, a little Karaoke and a wonderful air of good fellowship.

During the afternoon the Legion Brass visit, the Mayor says a few words, - unfortunately there are no pipers this year, but often we are included in their rounds of various Remembrance Day services.

Years have passed since our first Remembrance Days in this town, when the Veterans were young and plentiful and glasses were raised to comrades just a few years dead.

In later years Husband and others took rum and comradeship during the afternoon to veterans confined to their homes, coming back if not three sheets to the wind, at least two and a half.....

Now the Veteran finds himself a little 'out of the loop,' - honoured, and thanked, - questioned and perhaps even held in awe in some cases, but very conscious of being of another generation. Our appreciation is great for the Legion members who make this Day so special, and for all who Remember....

Well, this is how it is in one small town, and probably to a great extent the happenings would be familiar in hundreds of other small towns.... a people expressing their sorrow, their love and their need to pay honour to the Valiant hearts. And in doing so gathering closer together.....