Practical Man often says I was born in the wrong time–that I should have been a hippy. Maybe he’s right. Case in point:
- I love Volkswagen anything (as long as it’s pre-1980).
- I have a tendency to decorate everything that doesn’t move (and even some things that do) with bohemian prints.
- 95% of the guitar music I play is 60s and 70s folk.
I would have liked being a hippy, I think. Except for the straight hair and no bangs thing.
Let’s just say that I have forehead issues.
So, I can’t truly be a hippie, now can I? First of all, I can’t even spell it. And I’m sure that hippies were more about peace, love and all that good stuff and not so much about the forehead vanity.
I know I should be thinking about pilgrims and injustices perpetrated on aboriginal peoples and green bean casseroles, but at this time of year, I can’t help it. I think about the dump and VW microbuses and a strange and mythical place called the Group W Bench.
It all started 32 Thanksgivings ago, when my dad introduced me to Arlo Guthrie’s iconic Vietnam protest song, “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree“.
I learned to love it–and now, I’m learning to play it on the gi-tar–with feeling.
So far, I’m pretty terrible but, in my defence, I’m a lot older than Arlo was when he first came up with the concept of an 18 minute and 34 second song.
My fingers, not to mention my will, are weak.
What can I say, I’ve been wasting my life, obsessing about my forehead.
But, I can play the chorus:
I’m pretty sure I can’t sustain it for 5 minutes though, let alone 18 minutes +.
The point is, I’ve also been inflicting Alice’s Restaurant on as many people as possible, since I first fell in love with it as a teenager:
- In 1996 (after I was old enough to know better), a friend and I attempted to write the lyrics (all 18 minutes and 34 performance seconds of them) in black magic marker on his bathroom walls.
- I met my friend, Bamboo Guy, partly because we bonded over the fact that he lived in a church, just like Alice and Ray and Potcho The Dog, from the song.
- My dad and I saw it live in 2005 during the Alice’s Restaurant 40th anniversary tour.
And, I’m not alone in my quasi-obsession. My uncle Putt reportedly played and sang Alice’s Restaurant to countless Inuit listeners, while he was working in the Canadian North in the early ’70s. He and my aunt recently gifted me with something I’d never seen before:
The Alice’s Restaurant book!
It doesn’t have “27 8×10 color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was, to be used as evidence against us”, but, it does have groovy sketches.
Soooo very groovy. I wish I could show them all to you!
Yep, as many of our southern neighbours are sitting down this weekend to what we up north call “American Thanksgiving”, I can’t help thinking of Alice and her restaurant and how one young guy took his peaceful protest on the road, way back when.
Protests go so much better with a gi-tar, don’t you think?
Although the Vietnam War and Alice’s Restaurant came about before I was born, I feel as though the past couple of weeks may have felt a little bit similar to what things felt like back then.
People feeling strong feelings.
Neighbours worried about neighbours. Or, angry at neighbours. Or, bewildered by neighbours. Or, disappointed by neighbours.
Something about neighbours.
Kinda tense, as I said.
But, that’s not what this blog post is about.
This blog post is about giving thanks.
That’s why I called the post, “And now, for a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat.”
Thanks–to Arlo (may I call you Arlo?), for showing me that we could believe in something and deliver a message to people in a way that made them smile, while also making them think.
Thanks–to my dad, for sharing Arlo with me and Uncle Putt for giving me his long-treasured book. Thanks–to Practical Man for driving all the way to Stockbridge, Massachussets to visit “the scene of the crime” and for listening to me squeal my way around the countryside that led to The Church. Thanks–to Fairy Godson’s parents, who went to the ACTUAL Alice’s garage sale (accidentally) on Cape Cod and got to talk with ACTUAL Alice and then they brought me back a Christmas ornament from ACTUAL Alice’s garage sale that ACTUAL Alice used to have in her living room on her Christmas tree!
Thanks– to Arlo again, for being a role model in the never-ending sentences and segues that have become his (and, okay, you may have a point here: MY) trademark style.
And, if you’re celebrating this week, I hope you have a “Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat” and I also hope you walk into the shrink wherever you are,
Just walk in and say, “Shrink,
You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant”
and walk out.
If one person, you know just one person does it, they may think she’s really weird and they won’t pay attention.
But if two people do it…in harmony, they may think they’re both Canadians and they won’t pay attention to either of them.
And if three people do it…can you imagine three people walkin’ in, singin’ a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walkin’ out? They may think it’s an organization!
And, can you imagine fifty people a day? I said FIFTY people a day…walkin’ in, singin’ a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walkin’ out?
Friends, they may think it’s a MOVEMENT.
And, that’s what it is.
The Alice’s Restaurant Anti-Massacree Movement and all you gotta do to join is to sing it the next time it comes around on the gi-tar.
It’s almost the 11th hour
on the 11th day
of the 11th month
and I’m gearing up for it.
Lest we forget.
First comes the reading of the stanzas from that famous poem:
They shall grow not old,
as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
– Laurence Binyon
I take deep breaths, trying to hold things in.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row…
– John McCrae
But the hardest part, the part that always makes me lose it, is the standing. Wherever I am, at 11:00 am on the 11th day of the 11th month, I stand and observe a moment of silence.
Lest we forget.
I do this, not because I want to glorify war, conflict or nationalism in any way, but rather, out of respect for all the victims of war and those who are called to stand up on our behalf, those left behind and those who return, never to be the same. Some years, Practical Man and I stand, hands clasped in each other’s, in our living room. Or in the middle of a store. He has 20 years of military bearing to draw on. I am a frequent fainter so I spend a lot of time trying to stay standing as the waves of emotion roll over me. Some years, I stand, locked in my office at work, the service from the National War Memorial in Ottawa streamed to my computer.
Then the bugle plays the Last Post.
No graceful tears slowly trail down my cheeks. No eyes glisten like pools of water filling up beautifully on a super model. No siree. I am a full on snorting, sobbing, blotchy mess each Remembrance Day. But that’s okay. In fact, it’s how it should be.
War is terrible. It is not glorious or glamorous or good–even when it’s necessary and especially when it’s not. It is terrible. For victims. For soldiers. For families. For all.
Lest we forget.
I think of another poem about how easy it is to turn away when the one being oppressed isn’t ourselves. The poem’s powerful last stanza reads:
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.
– Martin Niemoeller
Of course, I don’t think that war is the only way to speak against oppression and evil. Some believe that Remembrance Day or wearing a poppy means supporting the politics associated with war.
It does not. War is a terrible, awful thing.
Yet, there are still people who volunteer (or don’t have the choice) to stand out front and face evil, bombs, political agendas, greed, death, human rights atrocities, injury and injustice. In doing so, they also stand up for those who hate and disagree with them, so that those dissenters might live in a world where they have the right to speak out.
Lest we forget.
I think of my Grandpa Howard, in the tanks during WWII.
I think of my Grandma Helen, newly married in 1943. Soon after, she received one of the Missing In Action telegrams that every sweetheart and family dreaded.
My Grandpa Lou had been shot and was in a German prisoner of war camp. He himself wrote a telegram a few weeks after the MIA telegram, sending his love and asking for cigarettes. He escaped then got shot and captured again but eventually came home and started a family.
I enjoyed both my grandfathers into my 20s. I am so fortunate. Millions of those Grandpa Lou and Grandpa Howard went to fight for and with, were not.
Lest we forget.
I think of Practical Man, who served 20 years in military service to Canada and his father, Russell, who served in the Korean War. Russell contracted malaria in Korea and died in his early 30s after routine surgery–possibly of complications from that malaria virus.
He left five young children and a young wife behind, just as many men and women posted to Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, have done in recent years. Of those who come back, many face PTSD and other forms of mental and physical illness because of what they saw, did and didn’t do. Families have to cope without their loved ones for months and years at a time. Then, they face the challenge of re-integrating a sometimes very different person into their lives. Those families will never be the same.
Lest we forget.
Despite what the media sometimes portrays, I don’t think those families are mourning or glorifying heroes. They are mourning and remembering mothers and fathers, sisters and sons, friends and loved ones. Regular people, gone or wounded in mind, body or spirit, forever.
My runny nose and red eyes are just a drop in the ocean of sorrow on this day.
As an advocate of peace, I wear a red poppy over my heart each Remembrance Day to honour what all military personnel (past and present) and their families know: entering war and conflict should be the absolutely last resort. It is too costly.
Lest we forget.
I hope we never will.