Thursday, November 10, 2011

Remembrance

By Belinda

We are back from our leadership conference, brimming over with good stuff learned. But tired from three long days in a row,  I went looking for previous Remembrance Day posts and found this one, posted in 2007.

 I have edited and updated information but am sharing it again to keep a memory alive. In no way do I wish to detract from the true purpose of Remembrance Day. I am a soldier's daughter and understand the respect due to those who fought on the battlefields of the wars of the last 100 years, but there are those who have fought wars of their own in peacetime; in battlefields constructed of walls and locked doors--and survived against the odds. They are heroes of a different kind of war, but heroes nonetheless. This is a remembrance of one of them:

Not knowing its significance to me, she gave it almost as an aside during a meeting at my office.

"Miah asked me to give this to you," she said, placing it in my hands.

I gasped in recognition of something I considered a treasure.


It was just a leather pouch, but to me it was about whose the pouch it had been.

It was made ruggedly out of one piece of tan leather, folded and stitched together on both sides with flat, thin, strips of off-white leather. The flap was secured by a pair of domes sewn inside.

There are initials on the flap, "E.H.," painted in white. They are in the centre of an small oblong of stitches, securing a piece of leather inside onto which the domes are sewn. The initials are a puzzle, since the pouch belonged to Evelyn, whose last name started with "C." I'm not sure if she inherited it from someone else, or if someone got her initials wrong when they were put on. Two drops of white paint landed on the front of the pouch sometime in its history, and no one bothered to remove them.

It's hard to find the words to express what I felt, but it was as if the pouch had been guided to the next pair of hands that were to hold it in trust; and a heart that would keep a memory alive.

In the pouch there are the remnants of lives long gone—a letter written in 1941 on a lonely Christmas Eve, shortly after a bomb had dropped nearby the home in Belfast, shattering windows. There are old photographs, newspaper death notices and other things. They belonged to two people that came to Canada from Ireland in the early nineteen hundreds. These people married and the child they had was "our" Evelyn.

I look into the eyes on the photographs and see "Evelyn’s people;" Evelyn, gone seven years ago now to heaven: Evelyn who was known and loved for her character and feistiness--Evelyn whose 16 years with the agency I work for (after her discharge from an institution,) were the stuff of legends.

She had no people when she came to us, but God saw to it that she soon had some. He made some of us love her dearly.

Mention her name in a group of veteran staff even now, and the stories start. How she would love that. She always loved stories and I have many of them stored away in my heart. I wonder how many of us will leave behind us stories that others recount with such affection nearly a decade after our deaths.

She loved me to recount the story of the disastrous day we spent together when I left the lights on in the van in the parking lot at the Finch subway station. A smile would break across her face at the humour in it all as I asked her again if she remembered it. That was the day she took the gum I offered, and it stuck to her dentures. We crossed the parking lot to the van waiting with a dead battery, to the sound of Ev's wailing about the gum on her teeth. Earlier that day we had ridden the subway (an event in itself since it was quite scary for her) in order to catch a streetcar, just for the fun of riding one--something she had wanted to do. But all of the streetcars seemed to be on the opposite side of the road to the side we were waiting on. Ev and I both thought that was funny. We gave up, crossed the street and caught the streetcar on the other side. We were immediately surrounded by emergency vehicles with sirens wailing, on their way to an accident or fire. Evelyn wailed too--she was scared by the hullabaloo.

When she died, after eventually moving to a nursing home; Miah and I had visited the funeral home together to say our last goodbyes to the part of her left behind, but missing her indomitable spirit. Inexplicably, she lay there with her mouth open. I don't know which of us spotted it first, but when our eyes met, we broke into laughter through our tears--for we could not help but gaze into her open mouth and see her name inscribed on the inside of her upper dentures; the dentures that no doubt flew across the room so often at the nursing home that a staff wanted to make sure they were returned to the right person.

On a day of remembrance; I treasure her memory. 

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