The Stories Behind the Symbols
Poppies. Close your eyes for a moment and think about the picture that word evokes. What do you see? Is it the scene from MGM's “The Wizard of Oz”, where Dorothy is running through the field of brilliant, technicolor flowers? Is it something a little more dark and nefarious, involving drug smugglers and gun runners? Perhaps it's something along the lines of a well-maintained garden bed, flowers dancing in the California sunshine.
For me, it's a small red flower, made of plastic and floral wire; a small tag with an imprint wrapped around it. Much like your image, there's a story behind mine. A memory of standing in front of grocery stores and post offices on crisp November and May mornings in a girl scout uniform; a can in one hand and a bouquet of poppies in the other. For a nickle, a dime, or a quarter, you too could get a poppy to wear in your button hole, or wrap around your purse straps. Why do we do this? Well, because it was Poppy Day.
The story behind the poppy had gained more significance many years later. In a little hole-in-the-wall rib joint and bar outside of Oklahoma City, OK, a World War I veteran sat beside me, telling me about his time in Europe. It was the same type of story that I had heard from my father's uncle and again, years later from veterans in the VFW hall. It seems a lot of veteran's love to share “war” stories, especially if they realize there's a common bond.
Those individual tales may not be as dramatic as “Saving Private Ryan” or as epic as “Apocalypse Now”. And you more than likely will hear about the time they had to dig the latrine rather than storming the beach. Then there are some that are locked deep inside, never to be shared because of the personal demons that might be evoked dare they tell it.
The cast of characters is as varied and colorful as the yarns that are woven. The WWII veteran who ignores the discomfort in his gnarled, arthritic fingers as he assembles the Buddy Poppy. The burly med tech with the braided pony tail, dressed in camouflage scrubs who reassures a crying wife that he'll take good care of her husband because he is his brother. The disciplined, but caring, nurse who not so long ago, was serving in a field hospital somewhere in the desert.
Tomorrow, November 11th, is “Poppy Day”, also known as Armistice Day, Remembrance Day or, here in the United States, Veteran's Day. You might happen to see the poppy that I talk about. The one that was inspired by the poem “In Flander's Field” by Canadian physician and Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, ninety years ago. If you do, drop a quarter in the can and when you're handed the poppy, think about the stories that are wrapped around it.
About D.G. Gass:
Inspired by Walt Whitman and Carolyn Keefe, author D.G. Gass, from a young age, has always loved to write. It just took 40-years for her to believe in her work enough for it not to find the trash when she finished. Originally from Jeannette, PA, the Yankee transplant, currently resides in Columbia, SC with her husband and daughter, not to mention, three cats that own her.
A veteran of the US Air Force, whose day job is in healthcare IT, the author has a passion for veterans issues, which is the driving force behind her first book, "Ghosts of Arlington". When she's not writing, she can be found curled up with a good book, working on handcrafts, or staring blankly at walls in a catatonic state.