Maybe it was the bagpipes swirling over the fields, or the morning gathering of high school, CEGEP and university students and staff at the new monument on the field at John Abbott and Macdonald College, on the track ringed with trees planted in memory of Macdonald students killed in the First World War.
Or maybe it was the more formal gathering at the veterans hospital, with the dwindling numbers of Second World War veterans and their families.
Or maybe it was the final Remembrance ceremony in Kelso Park at the bottom of our street in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue with its icy Lake St-Louis background and the shrinking ranks of Second World War veterans and then the sandwiches and beer in the Legion hall afterwards.
Or maybe it was just plain colder weather, fallen leaves and the televised images of storms like Sandy leaving people homeless or worse.
Whatever, as the light draws in, November is a month to remember. We think about all the veterans we have known, the veterans we know still, our parents, our ancestors. It’s a time to appreciate the sacrifices of others, to remember times past. To remind new generations of all that stuff, and to think of all those young (and not so young) people caught up in contemporary conflicts. And to be grateful that we have lived and continue to live in peace.
This sombre mood might explain why I was so struck by a recent email from Judith Isherwood, the tenacious and inspirational creator of Shoreline, the little Lakeshore publishing house that has produced more than 100 books in the last few years. The Shoreline story is very West Island, a little English press busy producing a stream of texts that reflect something of the varieties of life we live here.
Isherwood writes about her latest book, a posthumous collection of poems called Daily Oddities and Miracles by teacher and artist Peter Conn who died recently after a long battle with multiple sclerosis: “My thought was to try and inform the public about Peter. His career was devoted to bettering education for our West Island students. It was to put a face on this educator, who … touched the lives of many (West Islanders.) It is like reading and working on Clifford Lincoln’s manuscript. Suddenly, I have a glimpse into people in government, what they do and how they affect our lives. And I think students should know the impact educators such as Peter have on them.”
And, yes, that casual reference to Lincoln, our own political veteran, writing a memoir is an example of why Judith Isherwood’s little press is so important to our community. She tells our stories.
So, if your life has been touched by the life and work of the late Peter Conn, teacher, photographer, poet (and many have), you might want to go to the launching of his book of poetry. In fact, if you want to experience and relish Conn’s thoughts heroically wrestled out of the 20-year physical and mental battles of living and dying with multiple sclerosis, you should come to the official launch. You might well enjoy meeting Conn’s family and friends.
The event takes place at the Lester B. Pearson School Commission offices, 1925 Brookdale Ave. in Dorval, on Thursday, Nov. 15, from 5 to 7 p.m.
And, surprisingly, this launch is not just a commercial gathering to sell a few books for Shoreline press to a few poetry lovers; it is also a sort of memorial tribute by the Lester B. Pearson School board in honour of one of its own veterans. Old colleagues and friends were so impressed with the quality of Conn’s writing, each word laboriously wrenched from the painful degeneration of his fatal disease, that they persuaded the dying poet to have an official launch sponsored by his old commission, and after his death the decision was made to go ahead with it even in his absence.
Even if you’re not a great poetry lover, you will be amazed at the tranquility and quiet thought running through this dying man’s mind. Thankfully, close friends and family have made sure that this exemplary artistic celebration of life can be experienced in this month of remembrance. There surely can’t be a much better monument to a life than that.
Bill Tierney is the former mayor of Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue and a retired John Abbott teacher. firstname.lastname@example.org