Thursday, July 9, 2009


Being Proud Of Neighbours

It was just another July Monday when I drove on to Highway 401 at Cobourg. Mary, my son Mark who lives in China, and I were subdued after a rare family reunion of all three sons at the cottage.
I didn't realize that within minutes I would be choked with emotion about how ordinary Joes and Janes and their kids interrupted their day to stand guard on the bridges as the body of the latest soldier to be killed in that killing field for empires, Afghanistan, passed beneath, first to a coroner's inspection in Toronto, then to the corporal's final resting place near his home in Bancroft.
At the first bridge, I was mystified. I looked up and there was a fire truck and firefighters and people in red and swatches of our great flag. And the same at the next. Local belated Canada Day celebrations? I didn't know. After all, I had been in blissful news isolation on the Trent River, and didn't know about the death of Nick Bulger, or that his coffin had just been unloaded from the giant Globemaster at Trenton in the sad repatriation ceremony.
And then it all made mournful sense. The giant highway that is the main street of the province gained a second name in 2007 - Highway of Heroes - on the stretch from Trenton to Toronto, and people gather along it to honour the passage of fallen brothers or sons or neighbours, especially on occasions like last December when the death toll for Canada in that evil land reached the sad century. (The new name was prompted by, among others, the Sun's Joe Warmington, who one day was annoyed to find traffic moving slowly ahead of him, only to find that the cause was four hearses bearing the latest war dead.)
I found in the news the next day that hundreds from Nick's home town gathered at the military base. What a fine tribute. But the mourners I remember stood in clumps on the bridges. On one overpass, just a big flag. On another, just one man holding his flag. On another, three boys waving one flag and chattering to each other in nervous anticipation.
Unfortunately the numbers dwindled from dozens to just a few as I drove closer to Toronto, and then, in the northern expanse of Scarborough, there was just one man, using his car to protect himself and his flag from the heavy traffic, and then, there was no one...It resembled the end of the Eric Bogel anti-war anthem "Waltzing Matilda".
The routines of life in the Big Smoke ground on, but I hoped at least a few of us took time out from bitching about civic workers and the strike that robs the kids of a happy summer to remember those who fight honourably in our name in a land where killing each other and selling poison to the world are the two main family businesses.
One of the nice things about modern Canada is that as the great wars fade into history, Canadians do not forget. There is more emotion and publicity around Remembrance Day now than there was three decades ago. And three decades ago there were still World War Two veterans in senior posts in the media. Why the public regard for our fighting men and women has even survived the socialist and gliberals who have always thought that fighting for your country is only something you do when the enemy boot is pushing your neck into the dirt.
I always thought I would have to fight in a war. There was the Cold War and the Korean War and the civil defense drills of how you were supposed to hide under your school desks if a nuclear holocaust threatened just outside the window. So I joined the Royal Canadian Air Force Reserve and learned how to run primitive radar sets while telling planes where to fly.
Then I was a father and worried about my sons having to fight. Now it's my grandsons. And so I think we can't just ignore the regimes that poison their area but have to lance the boils on the planet with our military before the infection spreads.
Not that I was thinking of all this on the July Monday when tears stung my eyes because my fellow Canadians demonstrated that they think Remembrance Day should come every day of the year, especially when the latest body comes down the Highway of Heroes.

No comments: