We are headed to the Royal Canadian Legion to get a poppy tray in light of Remembrance Day coming up soon. Boys Scouts like Tony – plus parents for chaperoning – are invited to volunteer for a couple of hours. It’s a good thing, the least we can do, we both agree. The elderly gentleman greeting us, Mr. R., he’s all spruced up and affable. He explains to us the details of the mission and tells us the names of the people we’re supposed to get in touch with at the poppy spot. Tony feels very important as Mr.R. attaches a red ribbon to his chest, a sign that he’s with the Royal Canadian Legion. When you’re nine it does not get better than this on a rainy Friday afternoon. I feel like we’re headed to a rescuing mission and in a way we are I guess. Plus, times with just the two of us are rare and precious and I treasure each and every one of them.
We arrive at Save-on-Foods and look for the manager, our main poppy liaison here. We only find the human-sized cardboard version as the real person left for the day. Well then. The next person in rank has no clue we were coming but he can’t refuse the poppy affair so he brings us a table and two chairs.
“This is not looking good, Mom, I don’t think people will get any poppies.” Tony’s doubt is real. He has never done this before and I haven’t either. But it’s enlightening to be on the other side. A middle-aged guy breaks the ice. He drops a loonie in the collection box and takes a poppy. We smile and say thank you. An elderly woman comes next, she looks kind and happy. It’s a good thing. As we sit and chat, we get a stream of people walking by with their groceries. Some stop, put the bags down and reach for change or bills to donate for poppies. They leave the store with a crimson poppy on their chest and Tony’s smile trailing behind as a reminder of how good this place is with the sacrifice of all people who fought in wars.
“Mom, why are some people looking the other way when they pass by us? Other people don’t stop for poppies but at least they smile.” An astute observation by all means. I explain the best I can. Body language 101. Some people don’t know how to say no, I guess, so they avoid being put in a situation where they have to do so. But it is important to wear poppies, we owe that to the ones who sacrificed the most precious asset and to the ones who risked it and are still around to tell the story. As Mr. R. said, as important as it is to get money to keep the veteran services running, the most important thing is for people to wear the poppies. We ought to remember, and the little crimson red does the trick.
We get some five dollar bills and lots of coins. Two little girls stop and stare while waiting for their mom to pay for groceries.
“The flowers sure are nice,” the oldest says. Her braids are cute and so is her smile.
“Yes, they are. These are poppies, you know, people wear them this time a year for Remembrance Day.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“How old are you?” I ask her.
“Four, my sister is one and a half, she can’t talk much yet.”
Tony smiles the older kid understanding smile. We’re both surprised that the little girl knows about poppies, it’s a good thing.
We talk about wars and books and maybe going to school next week now that his cold is over with. It’s almost dinner time. We walk to the car. Rain and leaves wrap around our ankles like naughty kids playing games around bedtime. It’s almost November. We drive back to the Legion office to drop off the tray and collection money for the next volunteers. We find Mr. R. in the big pool room at the back. It smells a bit like old cigarette smoke and the uniforms pinned under the big glass panels on the walls look dusty. It makes me a bit sad to wonder if the Legion is still a strong presence or slightly fading away… Who knows, I wish they stay, people like Mr. R. sure believe in it and that’s perfectly right. He sees us and comes to us right away. He smiles and hands us each a poppy quarter – Royal Canadian mint! – and a cup of jelly beans for Tony. Lots of them. To share, of course, he winks. He shakes Tony’s hand ceremoniously. Tony’s eyes meet mine. He’s proud and tall. I am too.
We walk to the car eating jelly beans. Sure I am a health freak, but this cannot be missed. I don’t like the black ones though, I tell Tony. Yellows are perfect.
At home I give my shiny poppy quarter to Sasha and Tony shares his jelly beans with him. One day he’ll share his too.
The kitchen smells of apples and cinnamon now, wafts of goodness slither out of the oven tickling noses and warming up hearts. End of October is the best time for apple pies. Outside it pours.
“We’re lucky we got to stay inside with the poppy tray, Mom,”
“Yes, that too…”