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Poppies then and now and remembering our Vets

By Dian Vujovich

I haven’t noticed many Vets standing outside stores offering poppies to passerbyers this year. To me their presence has long been a part of America’s Memorial Day tradition —although I’ve never really gotten that poppy connection.

In South Saint Paul, Minnesota where I grew up, there was always a Memorial Day parade—even when the holiday back then was celebrated sans a three-day weekend. For a day or so surrounding the day, all around town you’d see uniformed men and women from the American Legion and VFW offering a poppy for a small donation. Monies collected went to help Vets.

I’m not precisely sure how the poppy got to be the most visible sign of this holiday. Most say it has to do with the poem written in 1915 by Canadian doctor and Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, “In Flanders Fields”.

Still, I don’t really understand how in the world a little flower that grows wild pretty much wherever its seeds land — including some of least fertile looking soil on the planet– and produces a drug powerful enough to make addicts out of some yet heals others wound up symbolizing America’s men and women who have died defending our country?

Maybe it is simply because the flower’s deep red color stands as a reminder of bloodied bodies left on the battleground. Or the fact that poppies can grow almost anywhere and wars are fought pretty much anywhere. But what about money?

Turns out, in today’s world there is a very real money connection.

Poppy crops are big business in Afghanistan. In addition to providing the Taliban with a major source of its funding, the country is said to produce roughly 90% of the world’s opium-based narcotics. Narcotics we both covet and curse.

Used to make everything from Codeine to Morphine and opium, the poppy seed has also made its way into our kitchens, into cakes and to the tops of bagels.

Back to their flower-power, it’s their deep red color that probably moved “The Flounders Field” author, and led Moina Michael to write: “We cherish too, the Poppy red, That grows on fields where valor led, It seems to signal to the skies, That blood of heroes never dies.”

But I’m not going to go with the poppy, blood and Memorial Day connection. It’s a little to graphic for me. Instead, I’m going to connect those dots differently and go with what, loosely translated, the Latin botanical name for the opium poppy means: The “sleep-producing poppy.”

So on this Memorial Day, I’ll be thinking of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who have given their lives for our country and our freedoms as sleeping peacefully.

After all, what greater honor, or more respect, could I give to each for their service?

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