When I was a little girl I was given an autograph book. I think they may have gone by the way of the dinosaur, but in those days collecting autographs was a big thing to do. I remember I first had to ask my mother and father, brother and other family members to “autograph” my book. For years I collected autographs from friends, sports stars, political figures, special guests at school etc. I have the autograph of Guy Lafleur, and Yvan Cournoyer when the Canadiens hockey team played an exhibition game in Victoria in the early 70’s. I have the autograph of Tommy Douglas when he was a guest at our school, and I even have one from King Frederik IX of Denmark …well, at least a formal letter with the royal seal, written by his Majesty’s private secretary after I sent the King birthday greetings when he turned seventy. Close enough.
But one of my most favorite autographs was written by a woman who I considered my Canadian “grandma”.
This I learned from the shadow of the tree, which to and fro swayed upon the lawn.
Your shadowself, your influence, may fall where you can never be.
“Nana” Antalfy (Mar. 15, 1970 – Saseenos, B.C.)
For years I did not honestly know what she meant by those words. When she moved away I remember sitting out on the steps of our house in Sooke, B.C. and watching how the sumac tree on our front lawn would sway in the breeze. It was a willowy type of tree and didn’t cast much of shadow at all. In fact of all the trees in our yard, it was the puniest, and the most unassuming tree amongst them all.
Puzzled, I questioned my mother about what Mrs. Antalfy had meant by “shadowself” and “influence”, and pointed at the sumac tree. My Mom beckoned for me to stand in the yard and then look at my own shadow. She then challenged me to try to step on the “head” of my own shadow. She laughed and cheered me on as I chased my shadow around the yard trying to step on it. No matter how far I stretched my legs, or how fast I ran, or how high I jumped, it was impossible to catch my shadow. Then Mom told me to stop moving and calmly came over and stood on top of my shadow, right on my shadow’s head. “See?” she said. “Sort of.” I said breathlessly, but really I hadn’t grasped the concept at all.
On November 11 we celebrate Remembrance Day, a day set aside to honour the brave men and women who served Canada in times of war and peace; those who valiantly gave their lives in service to their country. Whenever I think of their sacrifice, I proudly stand in their shadow and when I wear that little poppy emblem on my lapel, I symbolically stand in the shadow of their crosses. Their courage, their strength, their fortitude, beats in the hearts of all the family members they have left behind. Because of their sacrifice on our behalf, we know freedom in this country.
“On August 4, 1914, Britain declared war on Germany. Canada, as a member of the British Empire, was automatically at war, and its citizens from all across the land responded quickly. Within three weeks, 45,000 Canadians had rushed to join up. John McCrae was among them. He was appointed brigade-surgeon to the First Brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery with the rank of Major and second-in-command…In April 1915, John McCrae was in the trenches near Ypres, Belgium, in the area traditionally called Flanders. Some of the heaviest fighting of the First World War took place there during what was known as the Second Battle of Ypres. The day before he wrote his famous poem, one of McCrae’s closest friends was killed in the fighting and buried in a makeshift grave with a simple wooden cross. Wild poppies were already beginning to bloom between the crosses marking the many graves. Unable to help his friend or any of the others who had died, John McCrae gave them a voice through his poem.” (http://www.vac-acc.gc.ca/general/)
In Flanders Fields by: John McCrae
In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch, be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields
Lest we forget…
Their “shadowself”, their “influence” continues to fall where they can never be.