It is a fairly recent tradition to have a flag raising ceremony at Cambridge City Hall to mark the start of the Royal Canadian Legion poppy campaign. With our family involvement with the army cadets, we know when the poppies campaigns are ramping up earlier than most people. And while most people are aware of the Remembrance day solemnities just around the corner, often, the poppy boxes just stealthily appear. We flip the calendar to the next month, we set the clocks forward, we carve our pumpkins and check our fire alarms, and there are poppies.
Having a more public, official-feeling start to the season by way of a flag raising ceremony makes this feel important. Not something that stealthily creeps into our collective consciousness, but a recognition of the starting-line of a journey to Remembrance Day. The next few weeks will be filled with remembrance dinners and poignant editorial cartoons, and changed social media profile pictures to reflect the season. There will be people angry about Christmas showing up at Dollarama and Costco too soon for there to be a Remembrance Season. And, there will be poppies.
In my lifetime, I think that I have lost twice as many poppies as I have retained. Likely more. A while ago, I bought a lovely crocheted poppy with a pin with which I’m still likely to stick myself, but am unlikely to lose. The point of poppies is to have a visual show of support. There are thousands of flocked plastic poppies available. There are lovely enameled and cloisonné poppies you can purchase from some legions. Crafty folk can provide crocheted ones. They are ubiquitous on the lapels of jackets for the next few weeks. But the point is also to provide a revenue stream to support programs for veterans. So although I now have a lovely and stable-on-my-coat poppy, to the poppy box, I go, and the flag-raising guides others to the boxes as well.
The guidelines that the Royal Canadian Legion says that you should wear it for the month of November, and then no longer. My Uncle Jack was a WW2 vet, and he wore his poppy all year long – every day for the rest of his not-quite-98 years. He also pierced it with a Canadian Flag pin, which apparently isn’t good form. I wasn’t going to tell him that he, a veteran, wasn’t entitled to wear his poppy however he wanted. He was never without it. On his light blue summer jacket or on his black wool peacoat in winter, there was a poppy. When he died, he wanted a closed casket, but his close family had a chance to say our goodbyes beforehand. Almost everyone in that room had a poppy to place on his lapel, in case no one else thought of it. As if no one else would think of it.
During the season of the poppies, may we find our own ways to quantify what Support For Military and Veterans means to each of us. This year, may we all take some time to think about what the journey beyond that flag-raising looks like.