Saturday, November 12, 2011


This is the first time in the history of the world that we have commemorated Remembrance Day on 11.11.11. The last 11.11.11 was 1911 - three years before "the shot heard around the world."

Today, in keeping with our Nilgiris Tea House tradition, we were open to the public from after the town's Remembrance Day service until 6 p.m., and veterans and service people were our honoured guests.

We made some new friends.

Some are old friends by now.

Some old friends' faces were missing this year.

Here is our 2011 Tea House Parade of Veterans:

Tillie Staples, a WREN who cooked in the Navy. Here she is with her daughter Heather who, along with Heather's husband Cliff,is a good friend to the TH.

I must confess to feeling a little inadequate when I learnt that Tillie had been a cook who could figure out how to make do with less; but she takes after her daughter and put me at ease completely! Please come back soon, Tillie!

Able Seaman Everett Kleven served at the end of WW2 and for five years afterward. He called up his friend ...

... Stoker First Class Bill Grier who, along with his daughter, joined us for lunch too.
Bill is a wonderful story teller and I wish I had been able just to sit down and listen to him for an afternoon. He served on HMCS LaChine, a Bangor class mine sweeper submarine. It had two Dominion Solser engines of 1000 HP each, and the regular crew slept in hammocks, which were better than bunks in rough seas. Once, off the coast of Cape Breton, they had to release one bomb and the water turned white all around them - they had struck a school of cod! They were so excited because that meant fresh food that day - and four of those fish fed 87 men; the cod were so big that it took two men to lift one of them aboard. I was delighted to be able to serve this man a fresh roast beef dinner, which he tucked into with great gusto. I thought about how, all these years later, his face lit up when he thought about that fresh fish for dinner.

(Please forgive my dreadful picture of Bill - he was in fine fettle and I couldn't get him to stop chatting for a moment to take the picture!) 

Ted came in with a couple of ladies. He just wanted dessert, so all three of them had pie. Ted didn't talk very much, apart from saying it was good chocolate pie. But just as he was getting ready to leave, I asked him if I could take his picture because I was going to write about all my veterans who came to visit me. 

He pulled himself up straight, said, "I don't take a good picture," and then when I asked him his name he said clearly and with confidence, "Captain Ted Garrett - Army - Korean War." Thank you, Captain Garrett.

Sergeant Dixon Carter is the only veteran who has never missed a Remembrance Day dinner at the tea house, and the day wouldn't be the same without him. His lovely daughter, Wendy, brings him faithfully each year and we always have a delightful chat. This year, however, was even more special: our own Tiffany proudly carried out her great-grandfather's dinner to him. Sergeant Carter served his Army stint in Great Britain during the War, and all over Canada in peace time, for a total of 28 years. As he was leaving, I said to him, "Have we got a date for this time, next year?"

He chuckled and said, "If the Lord wills - and if my great-granddaughter can serve me. Look after that great-granddaughter of mine ..."

Corporal Keith Leonard was brought for dinner by his daughter, who unfortunately couldn't stay. This lovely man, with a chest full of medals, told me that he would just wait to eat with her. "When's Rita coming back?" he asked several times. Brian Torpy, whose picture somehow I didn't take, gently told him to order the roast beef and talked with him about various experiences the two of them had had around the world. When it came time for dessert Corporal Leonard said he didn't want any, but he would eat some ice cream if it was put in front of him. As he said that, he smiled - the first smile he had given me, and it lit up his beautiful face and found its mark in my heart. 

"The Gang": A few less this year - my darling Jessie Howe couldn't join us and some of our other friends have been laid to rest - but the others were here, valiant soldiers all.

Margarite Paget, still feeling keenly the loss of her twin sister Marjorie who had also served with her ...

Margaret Trentham, President of the Legion, Three Hills Chapter #92 ...

Phil and Marion Johnson. Marion is a reminder of how hard it is to have to remain at home when your loved one is deployed; I think of the lines of John Milton - actually written about his own blindness but so appropriate for these spouses, who are as valiant and as brave as their partners - "They also serve who only stand and wait." When I was taking their picture Marion, laughing, said, "Make sure that light on his head doesn't look like a halo. I'm the one who should have the halo!"

Phil always teases me, and FINALLY I had a chance to get him back this year. He asked me how he could get hold of me to set up the Legion Christmas dinner. The Gang was sitting at the east window, so I asked Phil to look out the window to the empty lot at the end of the street. He did. Then I told him, "Go there and start a fire and send me smoke signals. If I happen to be home I'll see them. However, I'm not very good at reading smoke signals, so as an alternative, you could just telephone me ..."

The Legion Christmas dinner was my favourite of the whole season last year. Phil, let's not get our signals crossed - I'm already looking forward to this year!

Poppa, AKA Rifleman Philip Noble: A better name could not be found for this dear friend. Noble in spirit and noble in heart, he served in the Queen's Own Rifles Canada. He served in the Cold War and was actually in Germany as the War went up.

When Ilona, his bride of 51 years and counting, called to make a reservation, she said, "Phil is both a veteran and a victim." I asked her what she meant and she replied, "He was just a child in England when his area was bombed. They got out with their lives. We have hardly any pictures of Phil as a child ..."

I love this man. On weekends he can be seen, tough and leather clad, riding his motorbike. Yet he can shed tears as he and Ilona tell me about a play he has seen about Juno Beach. He lights up when his grandchildren - who clamber around him like puppies - are in the room. 

Want to hear a great love story? Phil was in a pub when Ilona walked in. (I think that's how it went, but that's not the important part anyway.) Somehow he manoeuvred his way over until he was next to her. He tried to chat her up, but she was having none of it. Finally he said to her, "At least tell me your name!" 

"Why?" she said. You won't remember it - you won't even be able to spell it!"

"Try me," he urged. She told him her name. He spelled it: I-L-O-N-A.

"We were engaged eleven days later," she told me, smirking. I glanced at him: his dimples were trying in vain not to make an appearance and he was looking out of the corner of his eye at her with ill-concealed pride and love.

This year, on their 51st wedding anniversary, Ilona presented me with a table cloth that had been given to them at their wedding. 

What a wonderful day in the TH! But of all the poppies I saw today, this is the one I loved the most. My little Tiffany, a food artist, created this design for mango mousse:

And this day would have been IMPOSSIBLE without the gift of time that BA and Brenda gave - both volunteered their services for hours, cooking, carving the roasts, cleaning up, serving, talking to our vets and making them feel like the true VIPS they are. 

How privileged we are to live in a country for which these brave men and women have risked so much to ensure we have our safety, our freedom and our unparalleled way of life! Thank you, all of you, from the bottom of our hearts. We will never forget.

Same time, next year?


  1. Special thanks to Pat and Dennis from NAPA, who came in to the TH for lunch and, when they were paying their bill, said they would like to pay for a veteran's dinner. I told them that no veteran would be charged today, and they said, "Then we would like to contribute ..."

    What great kindness! Pat and Dennis, I appreciate you so much!

  2. Nice work Karyn,
    Second Best Remembrance Day tradition I've ever heard of.
    Is it any wonder that so many people find your TeaHouse to be a special place? The extra mile is way behind you!!


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