Friday, November 11, 2011

REMEMBRANCE DAY - Red poppies and apple blossom

                        The 11th of November, is Armistice Day or Remembrance Day. It commemorates the signing of the Armistice to end the carnage of World War 1. On this day we spare a thought, and give heartfelt thanks to the brave men and women who bought freedom with their blood. The wearing of a red poppy on this day symbolizes their sacrifice.

            The battlefields of France and Belgium were covered with red poppies, and they grew profusely, nurtured by the blood of thousands of soldiers. In Northern France when he saw the poppies growing on the battlefield, a Canadian officer, Lt.Col. John McCrae penned his immortal poem. In Flanders Fields. Moina Michael, who worked for the American YMCA, read the poem just before the Armistice was signed. It moved her so much she decided to wear a red poppy in remembrance of the fallen.

 I thought the following story was appropriate. Soldiers sacrificed their lives on the battlefields. The women they left behind wept and mourned, often living a sad and solitary life, bereft of children and the men they loved.


            The title for my little story is – CALL OF THE APPLE BLOSSOM.
Mary wore her hair pulled back into two tight little plaits that met at the back of her head. She stared sightlessly ahead, not blind in the literal sense, but blind to the future and the present.  She had sight now only for the past.
            Memories in a kaleidoscope of colour flashed through her brain. Gone, erased forever would be the pitying looks from the nursing staff, other patients and their visitors in the geriatric ward. She moved her hands, with the grotesque, arthritic knuckles to brush a fly away from her face.
            The nurse came over, starched and pristine in her uniform, to tuck in the blankets.  Mary had suffered a stroke, which partially paralysed her. Just because she’d lost the power of speech didn’t mean she was deaf. She smiled inwardly, because her slack lips were incapable of forming a smile.  People talked about her, thinking she could not hear them.
            “Poor old thing doesn’t get any visitors,” they would say. “Been here twenty years and hasn’t ever had any mail, not even a card for Christmas, Mother’s day or her birthday. Unloved and with no-one to care. It’s such a shame.” They would shake their heads as they discussed her.  How she hated their pitying looks.
            She wasn’t lonely, wasn’t unloved either.  She did have a visitor, a special one who came from another age, through the swirling mists of time, came fleetingly, but more and more often now, closer and closer. She could almost reach out and touch him. Could smell the scent of apple blossom he brought with him from the orchards that had once been their home.
            She glanced at the other occupant of the ward, Jessie who pushed her teeth in and out all the time, and dribbled saliva from the corner of her mouth.  Who would want visitors like Jessie’s?  Her daughter paid duty visits, accompanied by the granddaughter in skin-tight jeans and too tight tee shirt, and her loutish boyfriend with his bleached frizzy hair and earrings dangling from his nose and eyebrows.
            No, she did not miss having visitors like that. She had memories more precious than the most beautiful flower and they would not wither or die, because they had been nurtured through the years by a million teardrops. Fresh, poignant memories even the ravages of time and age could not destroy.
            The end would come soon now. Each time her visitor came, he always brought the scent of those blossoms with him. She reached out her hand - so close, but as their fingers bridged the time barrier and almost touched, he would disappear.
            No, William could never really leave her.  His memory was locked in her heart for eternity. A misty veil came down. She felt his presence and tried to call him through the mists of years, but the time had not yet come, and he disappeared into the swirling clouds that had separated them for so long.
            Through the years, she often heard the muted march of countless feet, as ghostly battalions passed by as they marched to immortality.
            William, her tall, handsome husband, with his blonde wavy hair and deep blue eyes, had donned khaki and sailed away with a smile on his lips.  He promised to return, but a bullet had cut him down in foreign fields.  Every now and again, the scent of apple blossom wafted on the air, alerting Mary that her love was not too far away.  Everything became confused.  Had William really marched off to fight in a war on the other side of the world?  Had he died on some blood stained foreign field, or was it all a dream?  A dreadful nightmare, when she would awaken and see him standing at the gate again.  They would be smiling and laughing as he grasped her hand so they could run through the orchard like carefree children.  The soft winds would cause the blossom to cascade upon them softly, nebulous as tiny snowflakes.  The air would hang heavy with their perfume, and the sound of bees buzzing carried on the stillness.
            Oh careless youth, who knew no sorrow.  Who had no inkling of the black clouds forming on the horizon to blot out their sun.  For this would be their last meeting. No, it wasn’t a dream, awake or asleep the memory remained.
            A strange silence shrouded the ward, interrupted intermittently by the clacking of Jessie’s false teeth. Mary lay in bed with a screen pulled around her. A man in a white coat stared down at her. She didn’t remember going to bed.  In fact all she remembered was the apple orchard and running hand in hand with her handsome soldier.
            A breeze rustled the curtains hanging over the opened window, and the soft swishing changed into the muted marching of many feet, as ghostly columns of a long dead army passed by.  On the breeze came the first scent of blossom as it drifted through the window, gradually becoming stronger and more overpowering. The room filled with a perfume so strong Mary felt as if she was back under the trees in the orchard.  The white coat turned into khaki, the years rolled back as if they had never been, and she knew now that the time had come for her to slip away and join William and his comrades.

Wild Oats, my novel from the Wild Rose Press, is set against a background of the 1st World War. It was an EPIC Finalist last year. One lucky blogger will win a PDF copy of Wild Oats.  Please leave your e-mail address.


Barbara Edwards said...

What a sweet, touching story. Memories keep with us those who have gone.

Colleen Connally said...

What a lovely story. I have tears in my eyes. I didn't know that about wearing a red poppy. I will have to remember to wear one.

Brenda Whiteside said...

I didn't know about the poppy either. Thanks, Margaret. Sniff!

Laura Breck said...

Margaret, such a beautiful scene. I'm sniffling over morning coffee, too! I think of all the young widows whose husbands have gone to war and never come back. It must be so difficult.

Jannine Gallant said...

What a touching vignette, Margaret. You painted such a vivid picture of the woman left behind.

Lilly Gayle said...

Very touching story. Armistice Day in the US is also known as Veteran's Day. To all soldiers in all nations who fight for freedom against tyranny, thank you for your sacrifice.

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Jannine, Lily, Laura, Brenda, Jerri and Barbara,
Thank you so much for dropping by and seeing Remembrance from an Aussie point of view.



Michelle Somers said...

Hi Margaret

Your beautiful story brought tears to my eyes. Sad to realise how true and common a tale this was for so many women back then.

Thank you for sharing it.


Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Michelle,
Thank you for dropping by, I appreciate it.



Margaret M said...

Hi Margaret,

Your story is very moving, reminding me of all I have to feel grateful for and all the people who suffered and are still suffering due to wars they have no control over. Perfect time for your post too.


Calisa Rhose said...

That was a beautiful story, Margaret. Thank you.

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Margaret and Calisa,
Thank you both for dropping by. Glad you enjoyed my little story. It was written from the heart.