The Hall Boy’s Journal – “The Poppy”

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Poppies growing in the walled garden at Ickworth House

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Well, that was a waste of time! I suppose I should have twigged on a bit earlier but I thought Pa would feel proud to see his son donning a poppy on his breast. I’ll start from the beginning shall I?

Today was my Sunday off and, after Church, I set off to visit home. Ma sent Alfie, a boy from the village, round to the House a few days ago to pass on a message for her (she never trusts the postal service). Apparently I haven’t been to visit often enough – and coming to think of it, she is right. Time just speeds by. A day turns into a week and so on, so forth. I sent a message back – cheeking that Alf should charge Ma a telegram fee – to let Ma know that I could make it today.

I trudged down the lane to the shop – soaked through with all the rain – and came across an old lady selling red paper poppies. She was hauled up in the porch of St. Leonard’s, staring out miserably at the weather. I suppose rain is not a paper poppy’s friend. Her face lit up when she saw me running up ta her.

“Penny for a poppy, lad? All proceeds help the families of those fallen.”

Now, I’m saving up my wages for a pair of skates but I searched through my pockets for a bit of spare change. Finding a copper in amongst my stash of marbles (I always carry a few around with me just in case someone is up for a game, you know) I brushed it clean with my sleave sleeve and handed it to her.

I got to choose my poppy – and I picked the biggest, brightest one of them all. She also gave me a pin so I could attach it to my jacket. Of course, I waited until I was home to pin it on. As I said – rain is not a paper poppy’s friend.

I hid in one of the outbuildings before I walked through the back door, pinning my badge of rememberance remembrance (funny word that) onto my lapel. I then entered the kitchen, brimming with pride. Ma rushed up ta me, nearly choking me in a hug, and then scolded me for neglecting my family. Before I could make my excuses she squeezed my cheeks together and kissed my head (I hate it when she does that), lead me to the table and placed a plate in front of me piled high with bread and dripping. Now, Ma’s bread and dripping rivals that of Cook. Cor – she ain’t half a good baker!

Pa came in from the shop for his lunch not long after. I wasn’t sure if he noticed me at first, so I stood up and muttered a, “Hello Pa.”

“Alright son.” He helped hisself to my plate of dripping goodness. He had a slice of bread half in his mouth when he just seemed to freeze – like one of those statues placed around the Estate. His eyes were fixed on the poppy. I unpinned it to give him a better look,

“Got it on my way here. Only cost a penny, too!”

He didn’t respond though. The bit of bread fell from his mouth to the floor and Ol’ Bill (Pa’s dog) snatched it up straight away.

“Pa?” I asked – my confidence and comfort of being at home waining. “Pa?”

He then turned an awful shade of grey gray grey and fell to the floor – Bill sniffing at his feet in case he had dropped any more crumbs for the licking.

“Pa?” I panicked now and called for Ma. She ran into the kitchen and rushed to Pa, scooping him up in her arms. He looked like an overgrown infant child. He was sweating, breathing funny and crying like a babe. I was taken aback – and I’m embarrassed to say, rather scared scarred of him. Ma seemed to know what to do though. Without looking up at me she demanded,

“What happened John?”

“Nothing. I just showed him my poppy and he…”

She looked up then and saw my badge. She then held Pa’s head in her arms, stroking his hair and cussed at me,

“You careless, stupid boy!”

I was shocked at this. I bought the poppy for him! To show him how proud I am of his going to fight for King and country.

I left pretty soon after that – the poppy discarded in a hedge farther down the lane. It was only after I returned to my room when I understood what had happened. Poor Pa – perhaps he doesn’t want to be reminded of the Great War. Perhaps he just wants to forget.

***

I wrote a letter home today with my apologies. I wrote it to Ma so she could choose to read it to Pa, or not. I don’t really understand why Pa reacts like he does when he is reminded of his time as a soldier. I suppose Jim, too, says very little about it, and I haven’t really heard much about the War from the gardeners. Come to think about it – most of what I have heard has been told to me by Ma and from what I have read in books and magazines.

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