Flocked Lips

In honor of Remembrance Day–Veterans day if you are American–a letter sent to my Great Grandparents almost 63 years ago. Thanks, Mandy for posting this.



When I was a child, Remembrance day was preceded by the sale of flocked plastic poppies. Just a simple straight pin with the head bent at a 90 degree angle.  I believe that up until 1996, they were made by veterans. Every year teachers handed out poppies, and everyone, everyone in town was wearing them.  Did they cost a dime? I think? 


Lots of kids took the pin and the green velvet center out (which, according to Wikipedia has been recently changed to black–I guess the original design) and folded them in half. They made perfect, bright red lips.

We all memorized Flanders Fields. I tried to bribe my kids into memorizing it a few years ago. I guess my bribe wasn't generous enough. They don't get it. Maybe you have to grow into it, line by line and row on row through the years as you stand and recite it with your peers to the measured crackle of the principal's voice over the intercom.

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.

Lt.-Col. John McCrae
I was in the tenth grade by the time I truly grew into that poem. Sixteen before I realized it was me, that "you" to whom the failing hands had thrown the torch.  I couldn't utter a solid word that year. By the time the larks were singing, I just stood there blinking wide-eyed. Hoping the tears would evaporate before they grew thick enough to roll. And I thought, what would I do, if my sons were called to war like Uncle Rex was? What would I tell them? Would they hold their torches high or cower in a bunker somewhere? And would I want them to be the soldier, flying directly into a dogfight defending mother, father, country, or would I want them to be the ones who come home?
And now I have those sons. Five. Sturdy, fearless. I lay in bed at night feeling the blood rushing through my veins and I picture the boys downstairs and I think, it's a miracle, isn't it–that the blood keeps moving, flowing, renewing itself endlessly, without any effort on my part or thought on theirs?     

I hear that Canadian school officials started giving the children a sticker version of the poppy last year.  Safer, apparently.  And we're teaching them about war. Let's not risk a poke by a straight pin. Somehow I don't think the sticker has the tangible, tactile effect of the flocked poppy.  But maybe I also pray God they never know more about war than to pull apart the poppies and use them as stiff, flocked lips. Not yet.  


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5 responses to “Flocked Lips

  • Mandy

    The thanks for the letter should be passed on to your sister, Nena, I got it from her. I am glad the sticker version has yet to show up in Milk River, It's still the real thing for us, and Kathryn was excited to have her very own.

  • This is Life

    Wow a Sticker… somehow… It doesn't have the same effect on me if I think about it, I don't ever remember getting poked by a pin… but I do remember making them into lips.-NCan't even imagine receiving this letter 1 year after your son went missing… not to mention look at the dates on the letter. this was at the tail end of the war… How heart breaking… I don't know how you would feel-n

  • Kimber

    When Mandy said she got the letter off her cousin's blog, I couldn't figure out who would have a paper like that–how'd you get it? I think it's hilarious that our posts are almost identical, without having seen each other's, first. I was wondering if I was the only one who remembered that poem–did all school kids really learn it or was it just Mom that wanted us to, and so we knew it when it came over the PA? And don't you remember sitting on the bus and everyone would slide the pins under the first few layers of skin on their hands and freak out the kindergarteners?

  • This is Life

    That is Funny! I do remember sliding the pins under the first layer of skin! Ha! I remember practicing it at school but maybe we were the only ones that knew it… I have no clue… I just know i still can recite it. You know I don't know where i got a copy of this… I just know That I have it on my computer.-Nena

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