Friday, November 14, 2014

Mourning and Remembrance

In the year of our lord 1914 the British Empire was imperiled. All over Africa the German and British colonies fought, while in London the King’s ministers reported with alarm: The Expeditionary force was in retreat. And they sent out the call: Save the King!

Across the ocean, across a harsh land, across the continental divide was a khaki coloured land of sagebrush and yellow grass and low trees. Here had settled the children of empire, nearly all with memories of England’s pastures green, now in a dryer land. It was a fertile land, if you had water. And water was far away. Far away but not beyond the ingenuity of the sons of the King. Great wooden flues were built for miles and miles with great Roman fortitude. Straight as the heart’s desire. And hearts dreamed that soon orchards would grow with a profusion of delicate white blossoms because of the wooden flues crossing the hills and valleys like a roman aqueduct.

But work on the flues was interrupted—. Setting dreams aside, the strong young husbands and fathers hit the rails across the vast land and sailed off to Britain and thence to France to flounder and gasp and walk with determination amongst the dreadful mud of Flanders. But not before telling their sweet wives and young children, “Take care, be strong, there’ll be a new day by and by.”

Only God knows how many letters crossed the ocean, undeliverable. Only God knows where many of the men are buried, men of a small town in British Columbia. Their wives had to move on, the town had to be abandoned, for so few ever returned. They had gone with such high hopes. “Fear God and honour the Queen, shoot straight and keep clean.” (Kipling) And now they are gone.

The old flues still stretch forth, grey as the landscape. At night the coyotes howl their lonesome sound… Mournful under the stars, in the presence of the great flues.

Sean Crawford
During my Freefall class
Alexandra Writers Centre
Calgary, AB
Remembering Mr. Thompson
The above piece remains timely, as this is figuratively the year of the veteran: The Legion reports a record number of Remembrance Day poppies picked up.

Today I'm hearing the song Cat's Cradle in my head, and I’m remembering my grade five teacher Mr. Thompson (I hope I spelled his name right) a man who would hit the roof if you drew a Nazi swastika on your desk. It was he who said (as I commented here  last week) regarding the poppy poem In Flanders Fields, “The torch is not a gun, it’s peace.”

Long retired, in my head he remains a vital young man with a British import car that fooled the mechanics: The engine was under the bonnet, not the trunk like that other import, the beetle. My elementary school had one class for each grade, and Mr. Thompson was the boy’s coach. (No girl’s teams in those days) I remember how, thinking of his students back home, he photographed his young wife on Hadrian’s wall. This was in the day when every classroom had a picture of the gracious young queen—of course we studied Roman Britain.

The Romans left a legacy, and Mr. Thompson left us a legacy: With much repetition and imaginative maps he explained the length and breadth of British Columbia. He told us the story of the abandoned town—I believe the town set a record for greatest proportion of men going off to serve. I think of Mr. Thompson when I travel on winding old B.C. highways in my imported Asian car.  


  1. So, I noticed that facebook has a page for your Alexandra Writers Centre group. Are you in that picture? It looks like a fun bunch.

  2. I avoided Facebook fever when Facebook came out, and now I'm glad. The Poles say a fish rots from the head down, and now I think the heads of Facebook don't understand privacy or certain ethical things.

    While the public thinks of nerdy hackers as idealistic and unimpressed by capitalists, (because they can vote with their feet) I can't forget that it was US hackers who helped communism by setting up the great firewall of China.

    If you get on the AWCS blog and get onto the FridayFreefall blog then the picture way down of "our fan club" shows me, half obscured, fanning by friend Judy, except my fan was too fast for the camera. At a previous When Words Collide I ran into Judy, had supper with her, and she told me about her group and I showed up right the next meeting. I have a number of fiction pieces on the blog, including the one above the picture. I try to do fiction on Fridays, because all week at home I do nonfiction.

    I've enjoyed the classes I've taken (two) but I have little contact overall with the centre. My free fall gang is great. It is so nice to be with writers, even ones like most of us who write as a hobby only semi-regularly. (I myself write daily) Writers care about noticing life.

    My fun fiction gets lots of laughs, so much that sometimes doesn't need to give any helpful feedback: The laughter says it all.

    1. That is a great picture! (sarcasm)

      I agree with your Facebook thoughts. I'm on there, but mainly to keep in touch with my cousins who live overseas. I don't have the time, nor the patience to update my status on a minute by minute basis.

      I'm a high school teacher and I've asked my students if Facebook will fizzle. Their thoughts "Nooooooo! What would we do??". It's entertaining to say the least.

      Anyway, good to "see you" on that site. (sarcasm)

      I enjoy some of the thoughts on that page as well, but your blog is still #1.

  3. I'm thinking of the Show Home Improvement with Tim Allan "I don't think so Tim." I would be the next door neighbour where for the entire series you never saw his whole face.

    Today I take a private phone line for granted, but back in the day I grew up with a party line—how horrible for teenagers! If you heard the phone click, click, it meant one of your neighbours had picked up and set the handset down again without listening to your conversation, and it was time to get off the line.

    Suburb kids would walk to the nearest pay phone to avoid their families listening or knowing how long the call was.

    My upcoming post is already written, for the next week or more if I do re-runs, to free up my writing time, I will post pieces that your teens might like…. I only said might.

    They say, "On the Internet no one knows you're a dog" complete with a cartoon of a dog at a computer. As for me, I write as I am, a middle aged man…. even though if I am a good fiction writer I should be able to write "in character" as a teen… but I won't.

    Years ago (decades) I was on the phone long distance to my brother and I said I was enrolling in university. He said, "To be a teacher or a social worker?" He had my character down pretty good. I think he was warm and living in Vegas at the time. Speaking of relatives, such as cousins in warmer places:

    My old Welsh friend Ann, who took teaching after phys ed, was chums with an Australian student, and they would always walk the long way around on campus simply to avoid walking out into the cold. I have a brother in the Philippine Islands who truly dreads coming to Canada, even in mid-summer. But hey, this is where I hang my toque.