Remembrance Day is almost here, bringing with it the ubiquitous poppy. It is easy to take these poppies for granted, as I found several years ago when I attended a World Fantasy Convention in Austin, Texas.
The convention is held at the end of October or the first week of November, and when I got to Austin I found that I had a poppy pinned to a jacket I had brought with me. I pinned it to the name badge that all convention attendees are issued with, and thought no more about it; at least until American after American asked me what it was, what it meant, and—when I had answered those two questions—where they could get one.
And then it dawned on me that, apart from my own poppy and a handful of others being worn by convention-goers (all of whom were also Canadian), I had not seen a single poppy since we left Vancouver. Americans, it turns out, do not wear poppies around Remembrance Day (or Veterans Day, as it is called there); but tellingly, every American who asked about my poppy said what a wonderful idea it was, and how they wished they had a similar program in the States.
Austin was by no means a one-off. At subsequent conventions in cities as diverse as Saratoga Springs, Columbus, San Diego, and San Jose, I always wore a poppy, and I always got numerous enquiries from Americans. By the time I was involved in organizing the 2010 World Fantasy Convention in Toronto, I made sure that the hotel where the convention took place had a tray of poppies in the lobby; and I was gratified to see that quite a few of the American attendees took advantage of it.
We wear the poppy to remember: to remember the wars that cost so many lives, and the people who fought in them. This November 11 I will be remembering my mother-in-law, the late Irene Roden, who some people in Ashcroft might still remember. Mum (I always think of her using the British spelling of that word) moved here with us from England in 1997: quite a leap for a 76-year-old woman who, prior to that move, had only left England twice in her life.
Mum was born in the Midlands of England in 1921. Not long after World War II started, she decided to do her bit for the war effort by enlisting in the Women’s Land Army, and so became a land girl, working on a nearby farm planting, tending, and harvesting crops.
It was a vital piece of work: Britain needed all the food it could grow, but was hampered by the fact that so many men had gone off to fight that there were few left to work on farms. Mum and the thousands of other land girls helped keep millions of people fed while the war raged on, and she was always immensely proud of the work she had done.
Every time I go to buy Brussels sprouts, I remember her advice: “Don’t buy them until the frost has been on them.” It was hard-won knowledge, as I learned when she told how they could not pick the sprouts until after a frost, and how cold her fingers got as a result, as it was almost impossible to pick them while wearing gloves.
On November 11, remember someone who, like Mum, served her country. And wear your poppy with pride. Not everyone can do that.