Remembrance Day

11 11 2016

14947404_1399040276803357_200309664430578209_nI’m always conflicted on this day. I feel the sorrow of the families who lost fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, in the various wars. My dad never talked about the war, though his service eventually killed him, too – radiated while working on radar towers, he died of lymphoma. The blame was clear enough for him to receive a small pension for it. Many of my uncles on my mother’s side survived the initial war only to die of illnesses caused by their participation in it. Others suffered capture and lived with the trauma of that for the rest of their lives.

Of course, many didn’t come home, and that was terrible. Poor young lads. Poor smooth-faced babies, forced to kill or be killed, some not even knowing what it was really about. Ordered into hell by older men, far from the front.

But my conflict comes from the “Lest We Forget” statement. Because it seems hypocritical, wrong, as we bomb Syria into dust, as holocausts blow through Africa and 1224a9362bcc40fea71bb6290f12c89f_18South America and Afghanistan and the middle east and we are all okay with that. We continue to send young people to fight old people’s wars, we kill them, we neglect to look after their lives after they are injured, and that’s only the official combatants. Those with the real boots on the ground, the people who live in the countries we fight our proxy wars and wars over oil and more – those we don’t care about at all. We’re lucky if we even think about them, let alone remember them.

We support governments who fight the battles of the oligarchy, who kill to support business, who support systemic violence that rapes the developing world and damages its people.

And then we vote in governments who continually refuse to support the veterans in real time. Broken veterans have to scramble for resources; their families are collaterally damaged.

elephant-dog-kindnessWe talk about how the battle at Vimy is where we grew together as a country. No, I argue. When we voted in universal health care and the social safety net is when we became us, Canada. When we showed caring can win over selfishness, when good will won over violence and self-interest.

And yet, every November 11th we wear a poppy and make mealy mouthed statements about remembering our veterans. I cry every time I hear the last post. We stand for two minutes, feeling all sad and respectful, and then quickly switch on our phones and leap back into a life that guarantees more deaths.

We do forget. We do break faith with those who died. McRae wrote his poem at the beginning of the war, when all was filled with optimism, before the millions of deaths caused us to reconsider. For a moment. Until the next war.

We need to redefine what the torch John McRae describes could be – not the torch of war, but the torch of love. We need to stop the endless killing.

“Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.” John McRae

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The end of an era

1 07 2014

ImageThere’s something terrifically sad about the end of a generation, that moment when the last of a set of siblings pass away and you realize, with shock, that there is no one left who truly remembers your parents as kids and you forgot or were too busy or wrapped in your own details to ASK about them, to get the info, to spend the moments with your loved ones.

My dear uncle Laurence passed away this week. I say my dear, not because I knew him well, because I didn’t – but I knew him a bit and extrapolated from what I knew of him and what I knew of the rest of my dad’s family and my gosh I wish I’d sat down with him for hours and picked his brains about his life and the others’.

It was a remarkable and unremarkable family, tested with illness and some separations (most sadly, my family’s separation from the clan over time), but tied together with love and humour and a sense of family that is, to my experience, truly exceptional. I’m envious of the other Brown families – they are close together and supportive for the most part, and we didn’t manage that to the same degree.

The boys served in the war, the one girl became a nun, but a nun with a wicked sense of humour who couldn’t be restrained there forever, and left in her middle years to share her spirit and enthusiasms in a wider realm. The boys must’ve been a handful for my grandmother, a woman given to small smiles that hid an outpouring of love for them all. They interfered with their dad’s radio opera mornings, they played tricks on each other, they told each other jokes. John, one of my very faves, actually told dirty jokes to my mother’s brother, a priest, and managed to reduce him to helpless giggles. He introduced me to “Elvira, Mistress of the Dark”. I’ve never recovered. Jim i barely knew, but I remember him calling my dad when he was sick with cancer, and telling him jokes until my dad could barely breathe. George I met in England, a wonderful, big hearted man. Every single one of these Brown families has, without hesitation, welcomed me and my siblings with open arms any time we appeared.

That’s not common in families, at least in my experience. They are truly loving people. I want to be like them.

Uncle Laurence, handsome enough to be on screen, given to a roguish twinkle in his eyes even when I visited him nearly two years ago – he raised a family of gentle loving girls. There are photos of him dressed to the nines, others of him with some disgusting trick goo dangling out of his nose (which reminds me so of my dad, tossing fake vomit out in front of my Cousin Grace, or feeding my Grandmother Warner and Aunt Annie grasshopper chips and then showing them the bag after they’d eaten a bunch.)

They were all capable to being funny without being cruel, of getting away with foolishness in the best way. I think they made the world a vastly better place. 

I’ve posted a photo by my sister, Margaret Gagnon, to go with this post, to give form to the family in a way. When we were in Florida one time, we came across a pack of laughing gulls like these that would hang around if you threw them Cheerios. They’re called that because their cry sounds like they are laughing. My dad was delighted. He’d recently found a book of Henny Youngman jokes and kept telling them to us to no reaction. You know, the “take my wife…please” sort of jokes. When he saw those gulls he figured, hey – the perfect audience – finally someone will laugh! So we threw up some Cheerios, gathered a crowd of the gulls, and he started talking. The gulls stopped laughing, completely. They were dead silent.

My dad did get a laugh that time – my sister and brothers were rolling on the grass, laughing at the gull’s response.

This family, god love ’em. I just know they are cracking up the crowds in heaven. Be prepared for rain – tears of hilarity…

I miss them all. Love to Uncle Laurence’s family, particularly, as they cope with this huge loss of a wonderful man. xoxoxo





It’s almost National Crime Writing Month!

29 04 2013

Now, finally, a blog topic that won’t involve endless self-examination and revelation and such. Phew.

Because I haven’t done any crimes.

Okay, I remember ONE TIME where I stole something. I was in grade 5. I STILL feel guilty about it. Ashamed, bad, totally awful. I’d make amends to the harmed party but I am too embarrassed to admit I did it.

So picture what would happen if I killed someone?

As it is, even a gentle thought crossing my mind about whether I’d like to kiss someone or potentially push them under a car – well, it’s all printed on my face. I’d never be able to lie about myself.

As a nurse and a writer, though, I can lie about other people. Thank heavens. Even if the lie is, ultimately, the truth – or at least it would be if I write as well as I hope.

In the meantime, head on over to the National Crime Writing Blog by the Crime Writers of Canada, and read how some pros handle criminous thinking/writing/acting. It’ll be worth your time…

And that’s no crime….





Remembering…but wishing we didn’t keep adding to those needing remembering…

11 11 2012

It’s Remembrance Day and I am filled with muddled emotions. I feel for all who served and died, all their families, all those who were harmed by war, on both sides. I don’t want to take anything away from their sacrifices. But I detest the glorification of war.

Maybe it’s cos I just came from Skyfall, where M asks the inquiry panel, “How safe do you feel?” just before the entire room is exploded by gunfire. The reality is I don’t feel very safe, given all the wars rumbling all over the world, the continual cruelty to each other. I’m listening to a song that talks about how much courage it takes to fight a war. I can’t help but think it takes more courage NOT to fight a war. To hold people accountable without violence, to peace keep, in all its forms. To be willing to share with the less fortunate, the old “Bread not bombs” theory.

I’m not taking away from the terrible suffering so many went through in the “great” wars. POWs and those maimed, those suffering from mental disabilities, or those, like my dad, who were radiated and died of cancer years later. He may not have suffered right at the time of the war, but he sure did later.

It’s just that as the frenzy around Remembrance Day grows, year after year, I worry about the effect this has on those who would wage war. Those who feel violence is the way to deal with disagreements or those pesky world leaders who espouse nationalization of industries that we want.  The people who send people into war are never on the front line, and their motives are rarely pure. The beating of the war drums works as they commit us to more and more situations where the goal is protected wealth. Killing for profits is ugly, but if we think it’s for a good cause, we’ll bite. In the US during the last few wars, it was deemed positively anti-American to question the war. It’s becoming like that here.

My dad enlisted when he was under 18. How many others did? Most of my extended family. Lots and lots and lots, because this was THE way to prove your manliness, to prove you had pride in yourself and your country. It’s twisted when you look at it a bit. Why wouldn’t the ability to not fight be considered more strength? You need only look at the faces of the soldiers doing peacekeeping during the OKA crisis, or those on the lines in Afghanistan before mission creep, or the soldiers stuck in Rwanda during the terrible carnage there. The strength needed to not fight was incredible. It broke some of them. As did killing.

I don’t have my dad’s full service story. He died before I took the opportunity to learn it from him. I wish I knew more. He never spoke of it except to mention he came back with TB and that the nurses cried when they saw the X-ray. He spent time on his return in the TB H-huts in Kingston, and taught himself to paint. He lived. And he’d tell one other story, which I think tells about his nature as well:

He was fixing a radar tower in the Bahamas where he was serving with the Navy (Oh for one photo of him in his whites!), and he dropped a wrench when he was way up in the tower. It fell from side to side, hitting various components, breaking them and sending out showers of sparks and minor explosions as it crashed back and forth, back and forth and he watched in horror. When it finally stopped, he shouted “DARN IT!” The Sergeant who was at the bottom of the tower checking on the noise gave him hell for not using the proper swear word. As for Dad, he felt completely emasculated. He told me it was the worst because here he’d had a perfectly good excuse to let loose a string of blue profanities and all he could muster at the time was a darn.

Such a gentleman. Makes me laugh every time I think of it.

Thinking of all those who were lost in all the wars great, small and in-between, and those who continue to lose their lives in state-sanctioned violence. Unlike many, I wish we could forget war. Unfortunately we have fresh reminders every day. Even if we do wear the poppies.

How about we work on ending the need to wear them?

(PS: the poppies here are fundraisers for the veterans – one of the good things we could do is look after vets properly, hey? So they don’t have to go begging for coins.)

 





Live Tweeting the apocalypse

2 04 2012

I’m baffled. Lately my adopted city, Halifax, has taken to a bizarre habit of “live-tweeting” historical events. I participated in the first one – the live tweeting of the Halifax explosion.
It was strange. Every few moments around the anniversary of the event, there’d be a tweet purporting to be from people involved in the explosion. I half expected to see one tweet reading, “I hear something – aaaaaugh!”

Now they plan to “live” tweet the sinking of the Titanic.

I’ve had enough. Not only do I live in a town ringed by graves of Titanic dead, but apparently we are to spend the next year hearing nothing but tales of the Titanic and how it sank and how many people drowned and how the helper ships couldn’t make it there in time and such. They’ve come out with Titanic: the movie in 3-D, just so we can see the victims drown that much more realistically.

There’s even a huge exhibit about it all at the Maritime Museum, surely the most disheartening museum ever, filled as it is with souvenirs of death at sea. It includes a tiny shoe from the youngest child on the Titanic. Dead, of course. I hear it ‘s a chosen destination for the tourists on the huge cruise ships that come to town every year.

So what’s next? Displays of famous air crashes in airports? Maybe Halifax should move the site for remembering the Peggy’s Cove crash to the airport. It would be more… topical… there, somehow.

And what’s with this “live tweeting” disasters? Shall we, as my friend Tim suggested, “live” tweet the bomb at Nagasaki? Maybe the camps in WWII? “Arriving by train at camp. How nice to be offered a shower after our dusty travels…”

We could do Dieppe, Gallipoli, maybe Vimy. Or earthquakes. Of course, many of the tweets would be truncated in mid-post. With screaming. “Hear whistling…Smith hit.”

It’s not that I don’t find maritime and other disasters worth remembering. I do find blow by blow historical accounts needlessly heartless.

And the idea of using the deaths of thousands at sea to promote a seafaring community is truly gruesome. I dunno about you, but after viewing the display, I might think twice before re-boarding my ship. I might take the train, unless there was an exhibit of famous train crashes at the station. Followed by live tweeting of a spectacular derailment just to add verisimilitude.

Maybe I’ll just stay home.





Shrieking in the night

26 03 2012

I’m beginning to wonder if writing murder mysteries is drawing death closer to me. Just the other day, someone living in the house behind me was murdered. The “perp” as those hard-boiled detective people say, probably walked right through my back yard – the police marked his path with red flags and they are still there, weeks later, highlighting the walk or run of someone leaving the house. They rang at the next door apartment building to tell someone to call 911 about the body. We haven’t heard much more than that, but it does make the fog, as it settles into the ravine behind my house, seem terribly appropriate. And gooey.
For the last couple of nights, I’ve been wakened to the sounds of some animal being murdered behind me. The first night I couldn’t place the shrieks – they were metallic, unidentifiable, alien. I fully expected to see blue-green lightning shooting all over the place.

Aside: why is it we always see aliens as green or blueish or pale? Surely they could be any other colour. Personally I prefer the grim grossness of your average Vogon to those alien bubbleheads. Though perhaps I am blinded by their poetry.

In any case, the shrieks continued last night. It didn’t sound like a cat fight, didn’t sound like a fox attack. My mind spiralled into the most interesting dreams tied to the sound – you know, those dreams you have in a second that seemingly go on forever? They weren’t pleasant.

Today I learned that the sound was a coyote, fighting with a cat or racoon. We have a coyote out in our ravine, wandering along, probably eating my dear shouting pheasant (come to think of it, I haven’t heard him lately), clearing up the neighbourhood cat riff raff.

It’s in one way enchanting to think that there is a wild predator in my backyard.

But, like the human murderer, I think its motives are not pure. I think it’s thinking malevolent hunting-type thoughts, malevolent only because, as with the murderer, they aren’t right in this setting. I know coyotes and men can kill. Sometimes we even like them to, as when we are overrun by rabbits or terrorists and need to clear some of them out.
But they are necessarily a violent, brutal part of life.

A part of me doesn’t want to think about them.

But then I take out my pen and paper or put my fingers on the keyboard, and out they come, creeping across the page on the hunt, quietly, quietly, until they spring out and take their prey.
Somewhere, in all of us, a darkness hides. With my MS, sometimes the filter between that darkness and my normally charming personality becomes leaky.

It’s a good thing I can write my feelings out. As in the disastrous parenting manual we tried to use for our kids, it helps to draw your anger.

If only coyotes could hold a crayon…





It’s just getting worse…

20 09 2011

Okay, as if falling space junk wasn’t enough, apparently the granddaddy of all volcanoes is muttering to himself and getting ready for one of those huge gaseous explosions ascribed to grandfathers everywhere. Only this one is going to block out sunlight and make it rain ashes everywhere. Mount Tambora, its name is. Learn it well.

http://gizmodo.com/5842066/the-deadliest-volcano-in-the-planet-is-ready-to-explode-again

If I didn’t know better, I’d say it was about time to sacrifice some virgins (if we can find any) to the volcano gods. They seem to be angry lately, along with the earthquake gods. The earth seems cranky.

I think they need some male virgins this time. Just sayin’. We women have had a bum deal with the whole virgin sacrifice thing for ages. I think it’s time for the men to take a turn. You know, step up to the plate, take some responsibility other than hauling poor girls to be shredded by giant monkeys or thrown into lava, etc. The last time men were done in regularly for sacrifices was back in Aztec times, and what with all this stuff about the Mayan calendar and the 2012 date they determined for the end of the world, maybe they knew something those other peoples didn’t.

Besides, all those female virgins have already been promised to various terrorists/martyrs. (depending on your view, and we are nothing if not politically correct here at dorothyanneb). There are only so many of them about.

Be that as it may, if this volcano happens, we won’t be worrying about global warming for a while. It’s going to be cold, frosty, and smelly. Sulphuric. Gates of hellish. I sense gnashing of teeth and wailing, and I rather suspect my new bubble umbrella will be unable to cope with the hailing flaming bits of lava, chunks of metal from falling satellites, asteroids, and the occasional tossed lottery ticket.

It’s at times like this that I can hear the old folks saying ,”Here we are, can put a man on the moon, and still we’re going to get covered with lava!” I think our research has been wrong-headed. We shoulda been looking down instead of up!

And with all the earthquakes happening all over the world (200 near Mt. Tambora alone), I can’t help but wonder if all the interior of the earth is seething. Since Yellowstone park is just one big volcano, what’s to say it might not join in the fireworks? Which would pretty well wipe out the problem with the oil sands. And the pipeline. And the western Provinces and states…

Honestly, it’s hard not to get the impression that we are like tiny fleas on the back of the earth and she is getting ready to shake us off. Maybe we should stop biting her.

And get some galvanized steel umbrellas.








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