Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Poppies at my gate, and in my kitchen

I don't think I ever saw a real live poppy until my husband and I visited Belgium one June early in our marriage. We stayed with friends, and when I saw the famous Flanders poppies growing in the ditches, I begged our friend, Gaby, to stop his car so I could go see them up close.

Little did I know that the ditch between me and my objective was wider and deeper than it looked. I tried to jump across, misjudged the distance, and ended up disappearing into the poppies. Gaby jumped out of the car, worried, but of course, I came up laughing, and gathered a handful of poppies to bring back. It was too early to collect seed pods.

So that September, Gaby sent me a small packet of seed that he collected some time after our visit, and two springs later, when Lee and I bought our first home, I planted Belgian poppies at my back door. They grew abundantly, and I was delighted to remember Flanders Fields and my friends who live there. Unfortunately, when we bought our second home, I forgot to take any seed away with me.

Gaby to the rescue once again -- shortly after we moved, a little housewarming package of Belgian chocolate and poppy seeds arrived, and the red flowers have proliferated in our neighbourhood, even appearing in the yards of friends and neighbours who have collected seed pods from us.

Poppies are a bittersweet flower, thanks to their association with the many young lives lost in the great wars, and with one personal loss -- that of Gaby's grandson, Dimitri, a paracommando who died during a training run three years ago on the very day that Belgian poppies began to bloom in our yard for the season. Dimitri's mom, Brigitte, like me, has fondness for poppies, and she has pictures of them on the walls of her home to remind her of her son.

Gaby gave me a copy of one of Brigitte's pictures, and it hangs in my kitchen, a colourful reminder of the bittersweetness of life, just as the poppies at my gate cheerfully greet me -- and remind me of certain sadnesses in our world -- of war and loss.

Sometimes I wonder if poppies put themselves forth as little prayers. And perhaps that's another reason I'm so fond of them.

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