War Poet.ca - A CFAP Project by Suzanne Steele

Sweet and Sad Memory

I’m reading Adrian Gregory’s ‘Railway stations: gateways and termini’, a chapter in Capital Cities at War: A Cultural History, and thinking about departures and arrivals, journeys and journeys’ ends, and about the theatrical space of termini and gateways, especially in war, the Great War, which is the subject of my doctorate.

I remember being driven to the airport early one morning in the late autumn of 2009 by a pair of good friends and my beloved daughter to catch a plane to Dubai (via Vancouver, Seattle, and Paris), on route to A’stan. Unlike soldiers, I was alone on that journey, though a friend met me at Charles de Gaul and bought me coffee (a happy accident that he was crossing my path there). I was neither afraid, nor excited, just terribly weary.

But one of the blessings on that journey was my friend Nate who greeted me at the airport in his kilt and kit (he’s ex Can- Scot) with his bagpipes. In the mist he piped me from my car into the airport, heads turning as we walked in. As I checked in someone asked me, “Are you with Charles and Camilla?” I said no, “These bagpipes are for me!” Thanks Nate. It gives me a smile as I remember it. Thanks too to my brave daughter who let me go, and my friends who accompanied me.

On the prop plane over the Strait of Juan de Fuca I sat next to a young woman who had worked closely alongside my late niece. It was an odd beginning to such a dramatic journey into the heart of a country at war to encounter someone who knew my kin so well. My niece had set out on her own big adventure but never arrived to her destination. Our big family has a huge hole in its heart forever.

The night before my niece left I hosted a big dinner. There was laughter, tears, good food, then shots of vodka (my niece!) and more laughter. How could we know it would be farewell forever that night?

I remember sitting at the long, long tables in the hangar at Xmas the year before the boys left for A’stan. I sat between cooks, admin, and reccie. Reccie got absolutely plastered and had to be dragged off by his senior NCO to be cleaned up, told off, reseated. I just laughed because I figured the NCO wanted the boys to behave around me and I was pleased that they didn’t.

But as I looked around at the battalion I couldn’t help but wonder who would not be alive a year hence. I knew I’d be well looked after but still, as the COR (ret’d) reminded me not long ago, anywhere over there is dangerous, and flying forward as I did was definitely a high risk activity. Understatement.

I think about the theatricality of departure, esp. for war. Public displays of private emotions. Nate played me out of my country and put a smile on my face. When I returned, I kissed the tarmac. Theatrical? Maybe. Heartfelt? Yes.


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The page you're reading contains a single diary entry entitled Sweet and Sad Memory. It was posted here on July 26, 2013.

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