Huffpost Canada Living ca
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Stacey Haley Headshot

Symbols That Help Me Remember My Nan And Pop

Posted: Updated:
Print

I am one of those people who has often been told that I'm an 'old soul'. It could very well be their nice way of saying that I'm acting like an old lady, but I can't disagree either way. Since I was a teenager, I approached Remembrance Day in much the same way I did as going to church: with great reverence and with tears always on the verge of falling from my lids.

It would only take a glance at an elderly person proudly trying to stand at the playing of the anthem, with his medals on his breast, and I would fall apart. I could never identify exactly what so moved me on November 11th, but I could always anticipate that I would need Kleenex up my sleeve cuff (just like my Nana always had.. hence another indication of my old lady ways), if I was heading to the cenotaph.

My patriotism is never more evident than it is on Remembrance Day. For me, the poppy and the flag go hand in hand as two symbols that mean the most and inspire me in ways nothing else can.

My patriotism is never more evident than it is on Remembrance Day, even more so than on Canada Day. For me, the poppy and the flag go hand in hand as two symbols that mean the most and inspire me in ways nothing else can. Perhaps my emotional response to the poppy is because of my heart's immediate connection to memories of my Nan and Pop.

2016-11-10-1478738719-2018260-FullSizeRender5.jpg



"Stew" was a Signals Operator with the Canadian Army in World War II. He dreamed of being a pilot with the RAF, but those dreams were thwarted, when after only a few hours of flight training, he was told that his poor vision and air sickness showed no sign of abating and he was meant for land.

My Pop told very few stories of his time overseas on the Italian Campaign, or of his time in North Africa when he was ill, or even of his time in Holland. He was a private guy and stubborn -- oh, so stubborn! If you wanted information from him, you might as well get comfortable because you were in for a long wait. His gentle, sky blue eyes were full of wisdom and they would crinkle up when he would chuckle and say "Right-o, chum!"

He was never quick to smile, but when he did, you knew it meant something. He was strict, he was hard working, he was conservative and he was one of the smartest and most well-read men I knew. But above all this, he was a family man.

Pop's love for my Nana was evidenced in the life he built for her. Where my Pop was private and stoic, my Nan was nurturing and generous with her stories. She had the patience of a saint who could answer the incessant questions of her granddaughters, even if it was the 20th time that they asked the same ones.

In the too-short twenty-few years that we had with her, we picked away at her brain to learn as much as we could about their lives and their relationship. We wanted to understand the man behind the stubborn old guy that we loved, but could hardly figure out. My sister and I loved hearing about the olden days in Scarborough, when they 'courted' each other in their teens. We delighted in the romance of knowing that they were married one day after Nan's 21st birthday -- their first opportunity to marry with permission.

2016-11-10-1478738410-6751275-FullSizeRender3.jpg



But there was nothing more telling of their love story than the nearly 300 letters that Nana showed to us one day. Stacks of letters all addressed to "Nellie" and signed, "Yours truly and always, Stew". Hundreds of one-way conversations full of reassuring words and anecdotes of the chaps that he was mucking across Europe with.

On Remembrance Day, I think about these letters and what they represent. These letters tell the story of the sacrifice that families in Canada have made in times of War.

Queries of how his Nellie was managing with the landlord, or with the leak in the roof? How were her folks and had she heard any news from friends or family? His letters were not filled with poetic stanzas, professing his love and adoration for his sweetheart, but were chaste attempts at distraction from the realities of why he was having to write to his wife from across an ocean.

No mention of war and if there was, all evidence was eliminated from the letter by censors. Resealed with tape and a stamp on the envelope to serve as the harsh reminder that on top of the hardship of being separated from their loved ones, any hope for privacy or intimate conversation was cruelly censored with the cut of a pair of scissors.

It was in those letters that you could feel his restraint, you could imagine the questions written in between the lines. You could feel the frustration he must have felt, knowing his letters were landing weeks and weeks after they were written, knowing that he would likely not have his questions answered until months after the fact.

When I see the brilliant red poppy pinned to a lapel, or when I see our proud Canadian flag waving in the wind, it is my Nan and Pop I think about and I mourn for them as well.

It was in those letters that my Pop asked how Nellie's "little problem" was doing and if she had got it checked by her doctor. It was in those letters that my Pop later revealed his exuberance at the discovery that Nan's "little problem" would soon turn him into a first time father. In those letters you could feel Pop's determination to be calm and steady, reliably strong and reassuring for his precious Nellie. The helplessness he must have felt! Wanting to be home with his pregnant wife and in the safety of his home in Canada.

2016-11-10-1478738473-5818035-FullSizeRender4.jpg



On Remembrance Day, I think about these letters and what they represent. These letters tell the story of the sacrifice that families in Canada have made in times of War.

When I hear the recitation of the stirring poem, In Flanders Fields, or I hear the bugle drag out that last, lingering note from the playing of the Last Post, I mourn all the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice. I mourn the fallen.

But when I see the brilliant red poppy pinned to a lapel, or when I see our proud Canadian flag waving in the wind, it is my Nan and Pop I think about and I mourn for them as well. For they are also symbols of what makes me proud to be a Canadian and never do I feel that more than I do on this day of remembrance. We will remember them.

Also on HuffPost:

Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook