Tuesday, June 18, 2024
June 18, 2024

Poppy tagging in 2022 with a theme of A Year to Remember

By KEN JACKSON

RCL92 Poppy Campaign Chair

Poppy “tagging” is the nickname for what Legion volunteers with trays of poppies are doing when you see us distributing poppies and collecting donations outside popular business locations on the island during this two-week period leading up to Remembrance Day on Nov. 11.

This is my eighth year tagging on the island; an experience that creates for me what feels like a constant roller coaster swing of emotions. Donations that humble me, stories I hear that leave an indelible impression, all mixed in with the frustrations of seeing a disappointing percentage of the island’s population wearing a poppy, unlike the timeframe when I grew up when it seemed mandatory.

I should make clear that the Legion, Canada’s official caretaker of the poppy symbol for the past 96 years, solicits donations for the Poppy Fund. We do not sell poppies, nor should we refuse to give a poppy to someone without a donation. Quite the opposite, especially so in this year that the Salt Spring Legion has designated as a Year to Remember. Please just stop by any tagger, coins in hand or not, and take a poppy.

Without question, the most rewarding aspect of tagging for me is being gifted with the stories that complete strangers share about why the poppy is important to them and how pleased they are to know volunteers like me are still out there helping to keep our promise “to remember them” alive. Some of those stories from our island’s aging population have impacted me so much that I now feel the onus is on me to continue telling their stories: as if I am the last person they may be sharing the story with.

The most memorable story I have ever heard tagging started during one of my outings last year. From the moment I made eye contact, I knew the woman approaching me with a determined pace had something important to say. The first words I remember hearing were “I was in a concentration camp with my mother during the Second World War,” meaning she was only a very young girl. That story sent my mind into a humbling tailspin of awe and sorrow, stunned that someone I’ve never met would share something so personal. That was surely a story not to be lost or forgotten, which I certainly never have by respectfully sharing it with others who would care to listen.

So it was an even greater surprise this year when, by chance, I wound up meeting the same person again. Neither of us recognized the other right away but after a few words and some bits of the same story described to me, I knew who I was talking to. In addition to understanding more details, what floored me most and actually turned my eyes watery was when she stated her embarrassment at being out in public with her poppy left at home on another garment. Embarrassed enough to ask for another.

I was again humbled and taken aback at her sincerity and genuine remorse for not displaying a poppy in appreciation for what she described as tribute to the many Canadian service members who fought to liberate her family and country. In contrast to the many walking by without poppies, it was deeply heartening for me that my efforts and those of the many other tagging volunteers had such deep and important meaning.

My advice to anyone seeing a Legion poppy tagger out on our island, just stop and stay hello for a moment to let them know their efforts are appreciated by the community.

For those wishing to do a bit more to remember the veterans in their lives or just the service of veterans in general, wreath sponsorship is still possible until Nov. 10 via the Legion’s revamped website: www.saltspringlegion.ca, or phone 250-221-9848.

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