If you're a regular reader of these stories and wish to buy my latest children's book, Seven Days With The Cherry Tree Gang, I'm thrilled to announce that it's now available as a paperback. You can find it here - thanks to everyone for your support!
As today is the 11th of November - Armistice Day - it felt appropriate for this week's bedtime story to be dedicated to all those who have served (and continue to serve) this nation and others, in order to keep us safe and ensure peace reigns. Thank you.
Poppies For Poppy
Poppy drummed her pencil on the table, letting out a loud sigh. "History is so boring," she groaned. "Why are we learning about stuff that happened years ago?"
Beside her, her friend Jenny pulled a face. "Learning about the past helps us to move forwards," she told her. "And we're doing a project on the two World Wars - it's important we don't forget that!"
Poppy sat back in her seat and stared at the ceiling. "I'm not interested in wars and fighting. I just want to go home and play for a while before tea."
Finally, the bell rang and the children in Poppy's class all scurried out of the school and into the fresh air. Jenny turned to walk a different way to Poppy. "I can't walk home with you today," she called. "I have to meet mum at the hairdressers. See you tomorrow!"
Poppy slung her school bag onto her shoulder and began walking down the path in the opposite direction. She was tired and the weather was getting chilly. She hugged her coat tighter around herself to keep out the cold. As the wind began to blow, Poppy broke into a jog, trying to keep herself warm.
She hadn't been walking for long, when she realised there was someone slow ahead of her. An old man, with his head bent low, was trudging by himself, carrying a big box that seemed to weigh him down. Poppy tutted to herself and prepared to jog past him, when something fell from the box he was carrying. Poppy bent down to pick it up. To her surprise, it was a pretty red flower, made out of paper. She stared at it for a moment, before calling out to the old man. "Hey, you dropped something!"
The man didn't turn around, but carried on slowly walking ahead. Poppy sped up, until she came alongside him. "You dropped this," she said, as she handed the flower back to him.
The man smiled at her and his grey-blue eyes seemed to light up. "Thank you, young lady," he said, in a voice that was a little croaky. He spied a nearby bench and placed the box he was carrying onto it. "My old legs don't work as well as they used to," he said. He laughed softly, as he sat down next to the box, with the flower still in his hand.
Poppy shuffled her feet. She wasn't supposed to talk to strangers, but she didn't like the thought of leaving the old man by himself, either. She paused, watching him turn the little red flower over in his hands. "That's pretty," she said, eventually.
"It's a poppy," the man smiled. "For remembrance. We wear them so we don't forget the people who fought in the wars, years ago."
Poppy's eyes widened. "My name is Poppy," she told him. "And we're learning about the two World Wars at school at the moment."
The man nodded. "I'm glad you're learning," he said. "It's important."
Poppy shifted uncomfortably on her feet, unable to look the man in the eye. "It was years ago, though," she said, quietly.
The man laughed a little, then coughed and pulled a hanky out of his pocket. "It doesn't always feel that way to me," he replied, as he wiped his nose, then balled up the hanky in his hands. "Sometimes, I remember it as though it were yesterday."
"Were you in the war?" Poppy asked, her eyes widening.
"For the last couple of years of World War 2," the man replied. "I did my bit, yes."
Poppy shivered in the cold air. "I wouldn't like to go fighting anyone," she said. "I'd rather stay at home in the warm and stuff my face with chocolate and sweets!"
The old man laughed louder. "Well, you couldn't have done it back then," he replied. "Sweets were rationed; you could only get them now and again."
"What? No sweets?!" Poppy gasped.
"And no staying up with your bedroom light on until late, either," the old man went on. "You had to keep your lights out, because of the planes flying overhead."
Poppy blinked back at him. "Our teacher has told us all about bombs falling and stuff like that. It doesn't sound very nice."
"It wasn't," the man confirmed. "I lost my brother..." His eyes started to look watery and he dabbed at them with his hanky. "He wasn't much older than you. That's why I was proud to go and serve the country; trying to end the war, once and for all, so nobody else had to suffer."
Poppy nodded, sadly. "I'm sorry," she said, unable to think of anything more helpful to say. "I thought learning about the war was boring, but... It's actually really sad. And interesting, too. Your life must have been very different to mine."
"We didn't have TVs, or computers to play games on, or mobile phones to call our mates with," the old man laughed. "But we still had fun. It wasn't all bad." He rose, slightly shakily, to his feet. "I'd better get back home," he told Poppy. "Elsie's doing a steak and ale pie for tea."
Poppy reached out for the box on the bench. "Here you are," she said, picking it up. "What's inside here, anyway?"
The man gently opened the top of the box, to show Poppy a collection tin and what seemed like hundreds of little flowers like the one she'd seen earlier. "I've been collecting for the Poppy Appeal," he explained. "Raising money to help people who need it. People who've been injured in war years ago, or to provide support to those who serve in our Armed Forces today." He held out the poppy that had first fallen from the box. "Here," he said. "You can have this one, if you like."
"To remember people who died in the war?" Poppy asked, taking the flower.
"Not just to remember them," the man smiled. "But for the future of the living, too." He began walking, slowly, down the path.
Poppy glanced down at the flower in her hand. "I'm sorry I thought history was boring," she called after the old man, but he was beginning to disappear from view. Poppy stuck the flower through a button hole on her coat and gave it a gentle pat. "I was wrong," she told herself. "Learning about the past is really interesting. And doing something to help the future is just as important, too." Breaking into a jog once more, she caught up with the old man. "I want to come and collect with you next year," she told him. "And I want to hear more of your stories."
And next year - and every year after that - that's just what she did.