Remembrance Project Day 1: Finding the starting line

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For the past few years, there’s been a (poorly advertised) flag raising ceremony to put the Poppy flag on the flagpole outside Cambridge City Hall. For the last 3 years, not including the extra weird layer of 2020 restrictions , it took a conversation with veterans I know at the legion to get the straight goods on whether the event is happening, and what time form up and step off was going to be.  I feel like maybe there wasn’t an official flag raising ceremony. But I don’t rightly know. I mean, it’s pretty common starting around November 1 to start seeing poppies on lapels wherever you go. According to the Royal Canadian Legion (Dominion Command) website, the official start of the poppy is the last Friday in October, and since the poppy campaign is a huge revenue stream, the poppy committee isn’t going to drag their feet.

Every morning, I take Louie for a walk. On weekdays, I call it my pseudo-commute. He takes care of his morning business, I get 15 minutes to transition from home to work. It’s a loop, so it’s a bit of a walk to nowhere, but it’s a transition. Today I was off work, but in the interests of Louie’s neighbourhood Scent Inventory, we walked. There is a park, across the street from a Royal Canadian Legion. There was a fellow in the park walking his dog, wearing a Legion polar fleece. So I asked him if he knew if there was a poppy flag raising event at Cambridge City Hall today. He had no idea. He didn’t really seem to know that it had ever been a thing.

My mom mentioned last weekend that she hadn’t seen any poppies out yet, which made sense because it was slightly too early. But her thinking verified for me something that I always  think about at this time of year. Without some associates in the know at the legion, how would you know that? This year, a few different queries on the Googlez gave me info about how to properly where one’s poppy, footage from a remembrance ceremony from 9 years ago, and an article about the significance of the poppy. But not when Cambridge branches or Kitchener-Waterloo zone would be getting this campaign spooled up. I spent years on of the email distribution list for poppy chairpersons at two branches of the RCL, so I can just email my Legion connections to find out. I know that some of it is about the marketing savvy (or not)  of the poppy committees, and whether they have a public affairs officer who knows how to navigate the media system. But really, it shouldn’t be this hard. 

What’s the big deal, you say? Sooner or later around the first of November, someone with a box of poppies looped over their neck will show up *somewhere* on your daily dailies , and you can get yourself a nice new poppy. Once the campaign starts, we dutifully wear the poppy until Remembrance day (or the end of November). We know the end of the campaign – those boxes disappear lickety-split on November 12. But the start of the campaign is way more nebulous.  In the past (and by how spun up I got about whether or not there was a ceremony today), I thought that the starting line was important. The ceremony would be the thing that got everyone facing the right direction, not just milling around randomly.

But then I remembered a warmup exercise we used to do in a Theatre Class a lifetime ago. We were encouraged to move however felt right to us. Some would take great sweeping movements, some would hardly move their feet at all, but we would all swirl randomly around the room. Slowly, slowly, we would influence each other into moving in the same direction. Slowly, slowly, we all found a common rhythm to our steps. No one was the leader of the process, we all found our way in our own time.

So maybe it doesn’t matter where the starting line is, because we all end up finding our rhythm and arriving at the same destination on Remembrance Day. If you’re involved in the campaign, your journey starts way before the last Friday in October. If best you can do is get yourself to the CBC to listen to Remembrance Day coverage from Ottawa, that’s OK too. Maybe seeing the poppy on someone else’s lapel makes you reach your hand to your own lapel, to see if your poppy is still there. Everyone takes a different route to get there.

At some point between my walk this morning and when I went over to the Legion  with my gentleman associate and my son this evening (they have food trucks in their parking lot every Friday night), a few things had happened. My gentleman associate had put his poppy on his jacket already. And the poppy flag went up on the pole that usually flies the Legion flag. I expect that it’s also at City Hall, ceremony or not. 

Our journey has begun. I wish you good travels on yours.

Extra Credit:

How to wear a poppy

One year ago: Raising the Poppy Flag

Two years ago: Remembrance Project – Day 1: Flag Raising

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