Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

SKIN DEEP ON 11/11/11

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The clock has just struck eleven and I am wondering how my grandfather felt all those times he went to the cenotaph to honour his comrades in the Seaforth Highlanders. He must have been wondering what his life would be like if he hadn't been gassed and contracted TB in the trenches.

In the early 1900's my grandfather emigrated from Selkirk, Scotland with other young men from his village. They made a new village in West Point Grey, Vancouver, where they settled and had families. Many of their children fought in World War 2, and some of them died. Those boys were my father's best friends, just as their fathers had been to my grandfather.

If my father too often found his soul trapped in a bottle of Scotch, who can judge? The memories of war are terrible.

When I went to Scotland, I verified the family story that my grandfather,James Hall, and his brother Ormonde were the soldiers who sang for the Germans during that famous Christmas Armistice. There have been songs written about that moment, and at least one movie.

In Selkirk, my family was known for poetry and singing. Some of us are lawyers, some are writers,and some are singers. Words and music are everything to us. Poetry is in our blood.

By the way, my brothers and I are fully immune to TB. We were not supposed to get close to my grandfather, who lived with his illness for more than forty years because his lungs were strong from singing and playing football.
These invisible connections, immunity and passion, endure beyond death.

Today, as every Remembrance Day, I will remember James Hall by writing a poem. Last night, when I attended a concert given by the great bluesman, Buddy Guy, I heard my grandfather singing. Old time music and blues are only one degree of separation apart. The Africans and the Scots were soul kinsmen, both of them endured oppression.

We will keep singing for men like this. We will tell the stories that find the one in the many, for, as Buddy Guy says, difference is only skin deep.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Linda Rogers

Linda Rogers is the author of the novels Say My Name (Ekstasis Editions, 2000), Friday Water (Cormorant Books, 2003) and The Empress Letters (Cormorant Books, 2007). She has also published several collections of poetry, including Love in the Rainforest (Exile Editions, 1996), Heaven Cake (Sono Nis Press, 1997), The Saning (Sono Nis Press, 1999) and The Bursting Test (Guernica Editions, 2002).

Go to Linda Rogers’s Author Page