musings from Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington ... home of The Write Spot

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

a lot to remember...

Every year when November rolls around, I pin a poppy to my jacket and think about my Dad. His stories of service with the Irish Regiment of Canada in World War II were often full of laughter – like the time he volunteered to teach cross-country skiing to fellow recruits at Camp Borden, north of Toronto. 

"It seemed like a good idea at the time," I remember him saying, "a bit of easy duty." Not so easy, as it turned out. Dad had never worn a pair of skis in his life and had to bluff his way through the lessons. Fortunately for him, and for the men of B Company, they never had to ski into battle.

Sometimes, while Dad reminisced, Mom would slip quietly out of the room. She understood that his laughter couldn't last. Some remembered escapade would bring to mind a good friend, a young man he'd trained and travelled and fought beside, a young man who hadn't returned from battle. And Dad would fall silent. That was Mom's cue to offer hot mugs of tea, a plate of chocolate digestive biscuits, and a gentle hug.

Those stories must have held painful memories for Mom, too. It's not only soldiers who sacrifice for our peace and freedom. The ones they leave behind sacrifice, too. How desperately, impossibly hard it must be to stay brave and strong when the one you love more than life itself goes marching off to war. Back in the early 1940s, Mom and her friends coped by working hard, playing hard, and sending a constant stream of letters to their absent lovers; letters full of home and hope and happier times, with photos like these tucked inside.

In her quieter moments, I can imagine Mom pouring over the evening newspaper for any mention of The Irish, carefully clipping and saving each story as she followed the regiment's progress from Toronto to Nova Scotia, then overseas to England and, finally, to Italy. 

Among the patriotic stories of long marches, flag-waving, and royal inspections, one little poem stands out: To Whom It May Concern - I like mink and crepes suzettes, and big fat dewy violets, I like hats at a pretty penny, Dresses fabulous and many, Long sleek cars and silver foxes, Perfumes in exciting boxes; In January, I adore Strawberries, but I'll settle for A First Class Private, blithe and bold, and a wedding ring, 10k gold!

Mom didn't just clip and save that one. She slipped it into a letter and mailed it away to her own PFC Philip Cooke. That's her hand-written "Phil" in the corner. 

Tucked into a pocket-sized folder beside Mom's photo, that little poem was with my Dad at Sandringham when he met the Queen Mum and Princess Elizabeth. He carried it into battle in Italy and eventually, thankfully, brought it home to Toronto and a happy-ever-after where Mom finally got that wedding ring.

Every year when November rolled around, my Dad would pin a poppy to his jacket. He had a lot to remember.

So to you, Dad, and to all the men and women who've sacrificed to keep Canada strong and free – the peacekeepers, those who fought, and those who stayed behind – thank you. We will never forget.

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stillpoint is the blog of Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington

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At 11:37 am, Blogger Loretta C. Rogers said...

Lovely memories, Cheryl. Thank you for sharing. My Dad served in WWII at Normandy, France. He would never talk about his time in the war. But, I think he was haunted by the things he experienced at the young age of 19.

At 12:02 pm, Blogger Cheryl said...

Thanks for reading, Loretta. Dad would've understood how your father felt, I think. There were times and places he would never talk about, as well. We owe them so much.

At 1:53 pm, Blogger Heidi said...

Love this!

At 5:03 pm, Anonymous Susan McNicoll said...

Beautiful Cheryl. I had two fathers. The one who raised me and the one to whom I owe my existence. One was in the Army and the other was a bomber pilot. They both talked about their experiences in a different way. And you are so right about the ones who stayed at home. My blood father left a pregnant young bride at home and did not return until my brother was two and a half. Of the 99 other young men who got their wings with him, he told me only six returned home, counting himself. He said he owed it to them to find out how many survived. That is how close I came to not being here. And so I remember them both today and the many sacrifices they made

At 5:10 pm, Blogger Joanne Guidoccio said...

Hi Cheryl,

Thanks for sharing these memories. Love the pictures!


At 8:33 pm, Blogger Sandy Cody said...

What a beautiful post, Cheryl. Thanks for sharing your wonderful memories of your father. Also love the story of your mother's understanding and offering tea at just the right time.

At 8:44 am, Blogger Cheryl said...

Susan, thank you for sharing the story of your two fathers. You really do have a lot to remember.

Heidi, Joanne and Sandy, many thanks for reading and sharing the memories - I really appreciate it.


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