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Flavour Guy: Distance casts a fog over remembrance, retellings

Autumn discomfits us. It is really two seasons in one.

It starts off warm and cozy, barely brushing summer, autumnal. But by November, we are leaning into days that are harder and shorter; the weather makes a sharp turn toward winter. Perhaps that is why this is the only season with two names: autumn and fall. Some say that we called it fall as a counterpoint to spring. I like this approach.

Things rise up in the spring and life regenerates. In autumn leaves fall, snow and rain fall, life falls.

So November is a good time to also remember who has fallen. In Canada, the U.S.A. and many other countries November 11 is Remembrance Day, a day to remember those who died in the line of duty.

Americans also call it Veterans Day to honour those who served or still serve in the military. In addition, Americans celebrate Memorial Day each May specifically in memory of veterans who died.

My mother was born on November 2 and one of her stories was that she was born on the day of the false armistice, which many briefly believed, ended WWI.

“My father,” she would say, “always claimed that I was more likely to start a war than end one.” She was a classy dame with a lot of spunk so he may have been right.

There was a false armistice, but it was not Nov. 2. It was November 7. Stores closed; people celebrated. They played La Marseillaise at Carnegie Hall and sang the Star Spangled Banner in Times Square. When people found out that the news wasn’t true, they rioted. But four days later the real armistice was signed and celebrations began again. Yet, I cherish the story that Mom always thought she had been born on that day.

Remembrance — the expression of remembering — is a shifty devil. Of more than 600,000 who enlisted in WWI, none are left. Their stories are online, in song, in various history projects. Distance casts a fog over meaning. A 20-year-old is as far removed from the early ‘70s as I am from WWI. How can someone born in 2005 (wait, wasn’t that just last week?)  be expected to relate to the War in Vietnam, the October Crisis, and other seminal events that marked us deeply? How can I expect to relate to something that happened 30 years before I was born?

I relate to it in its retelling but there is no visceral touchstone. Still it is important to retell our stories, even if they are wrong.

One of our sovereign myths is that Canada was, in part, forged into a nation by participating in WWI, when almost a quarter million Canadians were killed or wounded in what history knows was a useless, senseless war.

But it is important to tell these tales because they are our tales. Once we understand their context, we can correct or embellish them as we choose.

Without our stories, there is no discussion. Without discussion, there is no identity.

For me, November 11 remains a day to remember — not just those who served in WWI, because history doesn’t stop there; but what it means to have a history and what that history means to us.

Meat during rationing

Rationing was a concern in both WWI and WWII.

To stretch out a meal, meat was often mixed with potatoes and other vegetables, all chopped together.

The French word to chop (hacher) gave this mess the name of hash.

Hash can be made with any meat but my favourite remains corned beef or, better yet, smoked meat served alongside a couple of easy-over or poached eggs.

Any deli that slices corned beef or smoked meat will have a pile of ends near the cutting board. These are often sold cheap.

Chop these up.

Heat some oil in a pan and lightly brown a chopped onion or two.

Add left over boiled potatoes that have been cut into small cubes.

Cook until the potatoes start to brown and then mix in the meat. Press the hash into the pan so that one side browns nicely.

Flip it over and crisp the other side.

If you want to be especially patriotic, consider that Quebec contributed 4 million pounds of cheese to the First World War war effort (farmers were as important as soldiers in WWI), so put a slice of cheddar on top.

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