Monday, December 1, 2014

Thirty Nine.....

I spent the morning trudging through Willow Bank Cemetery, just me and a few crows. This is the first time I've been completely on my own there (well besides the crows) and I was struck by how quiet it was. I don't do well with quiet (as most of you know). It's away from bustling downtown Wolfville and far enough back from the road that you can't hear any traffic. Normally when I'm there, there are other visitors or I run into the grounds keeper Chris, but he is gone until spring, off preparing for tax season. Chris is an account in the off season for the burial business. He even offered to help me with my taxes.  Seriously, I can't make this shit up.

Chris and I have had some interesting conversations the last few months. I can now tell you everything you never wanted to know about headstone installation (turns out $2500 buys you the headstone but not the base you need to install it), or how many people can fit into one plot ("five or six so long as you don't have big fancy urns"). Chris is a hard man to get away from once he gets started. I'm sure he really enjoys having someone (alive) to talk to once in a while. I almost feel like I should bring him a coffee now when I go to the cemetery.

I asked Chris one day how many military graves were in Willow Bank. He was stumped for an answer, which really surprised me. I expected he would know right away as he has worked there for almost 28 years.  He thought there were maybe five or six. I knew there had to be more than that, there are that many in Dan's section alone. So I went back this morning and counted them.

There are thirty nine. Thirty nine. The first one was buried there in 1919. His name was Blake, and he was a private. There are privates, corporals, and sergeants. A warrant, a major and a colonel. Most died well before their time. Frederick was the oldest when he died, 93, he was born in 1892. He had a long life, I hope it was a good one. Two of them were gunners, George and Arthur. I'm glad there are gunners there (I wonder if they had gunner's ear). Somebody had visited Arthur and left a wreath on Remembrance Day. I'm happy he still has people to visit him. Sadly, I don't think many do.

I had a chat with each of them and read each of their names out loud. Cecil, Stanley, Gordon, John, Vernon, Neil, Ralph, James, Harry, Robert, Dan. They were all somebody's person. Somebody's husband. Somebody's dad. Somebody's son.  Somebody's brother. Somebody's friend. Whether they died in 1919 or 2014, they are not forgotten. Their lives mattered. On Sunday, December 7, the girls and I (and anyone who wants to join us) will place fresh balsam wreaths on each of their headstones. We will read their names and we will know that they were here.  We will thank them, we will honour them and we will remember them. They were somebody's person.

*On Sunday December 7, Wreaths Across Canada will be placing balsam wreaths on every military grave at the National Military Cemetery, Beechwood, in Ottawa. "to remember and honour those who served and teach our youth of Canada, the value of freedom." If you are in the Ottawa area, I encourage you to go to Beechwood and lend a hand placing wreaths. If you can't be there in person, you can sponsor a wreath.  You can also lay a wreath at your local cemetery, there are veterans buried in virtually every cemetery in Canada.

On my honour, we will stand at the place where you rest
and remember you.
On my honour, we will pick up the torch of freedom
and carry it for you.
On my honour, you will not be a silent memory,
we will speak of you often
so the world will know what you have done.
On my honour, as you reach the gates of heaven
you will hear the voices of a grateful nation rise up
and we will honour you.~Kathleen Mills


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