Poppies

When I was a kid, poppies were the evil flowers that threatened the lives of Dorothy and her friends in the Wizard of Oz movie. And these days the word “poppy” often brings to mind the killer seeds of the opium crisis. But the starkly bright poppy blossom, often blood red, represents something much, much more: a remembrance of lives lost in battle against foes both seen and unseen.

Today is the last Monday in May, so it is officially Memorial Day. We all know that this year, the celebrations will be different. No inspiring parades with floats, marching bands, and flag-waving children, no noisy hot dogs-and-beer backyard BBQs (well, in my neck of the woods in the Northeast, anyway), no fireworks, no long-awaited kickoff to a gloriously fabulous summer. On the Boston Common, the Military Heroes Flag Garden, with more than 37,000 flags planted each year by 500-plus volunteers, will not remind us of the ultimate sacrifice paid by those who kept us free.

This year, the remembrance efforts are up to us, as individuals as well as communities. People are being encouraged to fly their own flags, or leave their porch lights on. Maybe a “celebration” simply means setting aside a bit of time to remember the heroes we’ve lost, both loved ones and strangers.

Many think that Memorial Day is a special day to honor all of our veterans, but purely technically it’s not (that’s Veteran’s Day, which has seemingly become an awesome day for some to score awesome deals on clothes, appliances, cars, and mattresses). Memorial Day is a time of remembrance for those who died, either in battle or on the homefront, to protect their own and future generations. Today the celebration of  lives lost includes honoring our brave first responders and medical personnel who sacrificed themselves for others, battling on the front lines of disasters such as 9-11, the Spanish Flu of 1918, and now the COVID-19 epidemic.

The poppy became a symbol of remembrance for soldiers in the time of World War I (or “The Great War,” because no one thought there’d ever be another so terrible). The bright flowers bloomed from the battlefields of the Western Front, a frequent sight—and later a distinctive memory—for soldiers enduring the horrors of war. At the time the poppies also inspired the poem  “In Flanders Fields” by Lt.Col. John McCrae of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Today there is a USAA Poppy Wall of Honor at the National Mall in Washington with more than 645,000 flowers, each honoring a fallen servicemember since Word War I.  Here is a cool link to celebrate virtually

I never knew, until I was much older, why my Navy-vet dad (born 1918) kept a bright red, paper poppy wired to the visor of his car. He never mentioned it, but quietly added a new one every year. Well into his nineties, he continued to buy them while chatting with fellow veterans from the American Legion seated at folding tables outside the Publix grocery store. When he passed away, I found loads of paper poppies in his desk, which now belongs to me. But every year I buy still more, and in each of our families’ vehicles, there is always a bright red poppy representing.

About a week ago, when the long winter appeared to have passed here in NH, I brought fresh flags to the cemetery to plant for both my dad and my mom, a Navy WAVE. To my surprise and delight, someone had already replaced them, and the new flags were waving wildly.

Thank you for remembering, kind stranger. And from the wilds of the Live Free or Die state, may I add: Please feel free to wear a mask this Memorial Day.

Readers, are your plans for Memorial Day different this year? Please share in the comments, we’d love to celebrate with you!

22 thoughts on “Poppies

  1. Cleaning. That’s what I’m doing today. Cleaning and laundry. Then look at edits on my manuscript, that I’m doing slowly so I can understand them, make a decision on what to say yes or no to, and make a list of questions and plans for the rest of it.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Cleaning.
    Laundry.
    Making cookies for the girl.
    Quality bonding time over our Hunt A Killer episodes.
    Then if there’s still time, looking over edits in my manuscript to see what to keep, what to say no to, make a list of questions and the plan.
    Sorry if this gets duplicated. The website doesn’t seem to be working for me today.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. An industrious agenda. With cookies. Now that sounds like a plan! In my experience, edits are always best reviewed in moderation with coffee, sweets, and cocktails. And maybe a little serial killer hunting.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for the beautiful post, Lisa–and reminder of what Memorial Day is truly all about. I never know about the poppies until I lived in England, where they sell paper poppies on the street corner on Armistice Day for folks to wear in memory of those fallen during WWI. It’s a moving symbol, especially when you think about the fields of poppies blooming above the trenches where once young men fought and died.

    Today, I’ll indeed be wearing my mask, in honor of all those brave people fighting Covic-19.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Leslie! I can’t even imagine how lovely and moving it would be to see those blooming fields in person. The Brits do their heroes’ memories proud.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Lisa, thank you for sharing that story about your dad and his tradition of buying and saving paper poppies. I see poppies here in Canada and in the UK each year for Remembrance Day every year. However, I did not know this tradition also took place in the US, and that there is a USAA Poppy Wall of Honor at the National Mall.

    I hope that you and the other Chicks have a safe celebration today.

    Be safe, and have

    Liked by 2 people

      1. No worries, Grace–I think everyone’s been having a little trouble with it today! Maybe our site host is “updating.”

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    1. Thanks, Grace–isn’t the the Poppy Wall cool? I love the virtual idea, too. Thanks for sharing your holiday with us Chicks!

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  5. I agree with Leslie. What a beautiful post, Lisa! Thank you for sharing your memories and tying things to today.

    (It’s interesting because when I first saw “poppies,” I thought about the CA state flower. I’m grateful that you explained the significance behind red poppies.)

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    1. Ooo, I didn’t know about the CA state flower! In my home state (CT), ours was the mountain laurel. I always thought that was the most boring ever.

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  6. Excellent reminder, Lisa. As a mom of a Navy veteran and one on active duty, I co-opt Memorial Day to cover veterans, too. And on Veteran’s Day, I add in those who have gone before. One day per year is not enough. Nor is two.

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  7. This is absolutely beautiful, Lisa. I didn’t know both your parents were veterans. How wonderful! Jer’s dad served in the South Pacific. His mom was with the Red Cross. My dad tried every branch to enlist but they wouldn’t accept him. He was either too young or they dismissed him for health reasons. It was always a sore spot for him.

    I’m writing today, but I’m also wait for the Condor Squad, a group of vets who fly WWII planes in formation, to fly over us. I love it. I’ll think of all those who gave their lives for our country.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Condor Squad–that is so cool! I used to go with my dad sometimes to “fly-in” breakfasts, but no formations. Hope you got a pic or video!

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  8. This is such a loving post! Thank you. Today I wore my grandpa’s dog tags from WWII. He fought on Omaha Beach during D-Day, and I can’t touch the tags without thinking of all the huge sacrifice that went with it. I spend a lot of time whining about social confinement and the pandemic, but you know what? My sacrifice is nothing compared to theirs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Angie, for the kind words! That is so unbelievably beautiful that you wore your grandpa’s dog tags. Omaha Beach…I almost have no words. What an honor his service was to his country–and his family. And I agree, whenever I feel a little pouty about not being able to do something (usually trivial), I remember all the hardships and sacrifices of the others before us.

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