As Remembrance Day approaches each year, I am reminded of a November about ten years ago. I was in a mall in a big city in a province in Canada. I had grown tired and had finished all the shopping I wanted to do that day. I decided to rest on a bench for a few minutes before I headed to the car to go home.
As much as I do not like shopping, I do love people-watching. So, I enjoyed ending my time at the mall sitting watching the people around and walking by. Within a few minutes an older gentleman asked if the empty seat beside me was taken. I told him no, and he sat down.
I looked over at him, and I noticed the poppy he was wearing first. Instead of the usual poppies that are readily available at this time of year, his was different. It was bigger, and it was crocheted with a tiny black pompom sewed in the middle. It also had some green stitching ever so subtly placed as leaves around the poppy.
It was very unique and quite pretty. I smiled at the man. “I am admiring your poppy.”
The man nodded his head and looked away. After a brief silence he said, “There is a story to it. If you want to listen, I will tell it.”
He cleared his throat dramatically and moved ever so slightly closer to me on the bench. He began…
“I am the youngest of 14 children. We didn’t have much more than our basic needs met as we grew up. There was just not enough income to afford more than that for 14 kids. My mother made everything we wore by hand – and yes, for all 14 of us. She was quite handy with a needle and thread. Of course, there were lots of times that clothing was shared. Unfortunately for me, I rarely had anything new being the baby, but I had plenty of hand-me-downs. I was about eight when this special poppy surfaced.
“Every Remembrance Day, our whole family would gather at the cenotaph in the center of our village for the service to pay our respects to the soldiers who fought for our freedom and gave their lives as sacrifice. Back then, poppies worn on your breast pocket were not common. Unlike today, where we see them available in numerous places, yours for a donation. Back then, it was the odd person who wore one of those. My mother made poppies for each of us to wear. They were hand sewed and she always added in that they were made with love.
“We were very proud to wear them. They were beautiful, a new version of this one. Wearing the poppy was extra special as our father fought in World War II, and we were always serious about showing our appreciation and respect for his service. So, year after year, we wore the homemade poppies with pride.
“They did wear out after time had passed, and some got lost along the way. And eventually, we didn’t have any left. Mom passed on years later and it seemed that the tradition had been lost. Some of our sisters tried to replicate them but couldn’t quite get it right. We appreciated them trying, but it just wasn’t the same. Several years after Mom’s death, the family homestead was being sold and we worked together to empty a lifetime of memories, collections, and junk to clear the house for the sale.
“One afternoon as we were working away in various parts of the big house clearing it out, Charlie came running up from the basement. He yelled, ‘Simon, come quick! You gotta see this!’ He held out a wooden box in his hand. It was tied with a bright red ribbon. It said ’To Simon’ on the top of it on an old piece of material in our mother’s handwriting. I untied the ribbon excitedly. When I opened the box, it brimmed over with my mother’s homemade poppies.
“These ones were brand new and so beautiful. I gasped. I looked closely at the pile of poppies so perfect and made with love and felt my heart just ache for my mother’s hug. I looked again and notice the corner of a yellowed piece of paper sticking out under the poppies. It had some writing on it that said, ‘Dear Simon, these are for you. Share them if you like, or keep them all for yourself. I made them for two reasons. One, it was a great way to keep my hands and mind busy as I worried whether the crops would yield enough to get us through winter. And the second reason is knowing how much you seemed to love these poppies the most out of the whole family. I want you to have enough of a supply that you will never run out. Love, Mom.’” The old man stopped talking.
I sat looking at him, my eyes brimming with tears. Tears for the love in his voice as he told the story, and tears for the feeling I could only imagine him having each time he pinned on one of his mom’s poppies. I was barely able to get a whisper out of my mouth. “Thank you so much for sharing that story with me. It’s beautiful.”
“Thank you for listening, and thank you for the gift you gave me: your time and attention. I will never forget it. Not many have time these days to listen to an old man’s ramblings.” He looked away briefly, then suddenly he jumped up from the bench. “There’s my bus. I better be off.” He looked back as he was walking away. “God bless you, Elizabeth.”
I hadn’t told him my name.
Elizabeth lives in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, but growing up she lived in five different provinces in Canada. She is from a family of seven kids. She fell in love with writing when she realized that she wanted to keep doing it and it brought her joy. She won a provincial-wide short story contest in high school, and she writes on an on-going basis. Everything from lists to memoirs. Mother of three, favourite colour is green. Grandmother to two girls. And, avid stand up paddle boarder.
Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois. She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University. Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keepingand The Graveside Detective. Her short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Siren’s Call, and Subcutaneous. Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world. You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.
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