Friday, November 11, 2011

Princess Pat and the Ric-A-Dam-Doo

When my brother enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces back in 1983, I remember my Mum was against it. She knew things had been tough for Dave. We were aware that he had a learning disability, and that the prospects for college, something my parents wanted for all of us, was not in his future. But being a career military man was definitely something she did not want.
My Dad had gotten Dave a couple of jobs, but none of them with the promise of rising above their blue collar yoke. Instead, Dave chose the military. “…serve my time. Get my pension.” was what he told my Mum to assuage the doubts and pangs of guilt she’d been feeling.
I still remember the solemn, wordless ride to the airport, and the quick, almost ethereal way he seemed to vanish through the security gate. It was the first time I’d ever seen my Dad cry. For a 13 year old boy, whose every idea of what it took to be a man, it was humbling. I had no idea just how much he loved us. I guess we never do.
Dave did well in the military. He quickly rose to Master Corporal and became one of the highest ranking flight technicians in the Canadian Armed Forces. More importantly, he was excelling. The specter of any learning disability had evaporated with every award and achievement he added to his collection. He was excellent at his job, and was flown all over the world to do it.
David was eventually sent to Sarajevo as part of the United Nations peacekeeping contingent during the hostilities there in the early 90’s. When he came back to Canada, back to Mum and Dad, he was different.
He spent more time alone, more time away from friends. Drinking more than he should have, getting into a rage one moment, a melancholic stupor the next. People are always so quick to label those that come back from serving their country with clinical assertions like, “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” without ever really sitting down with them, talking to them and finding out what’s really wrong. We knew he was different, we just didn't know why.
The only thing I did know, was that something had stolen David from us, and replaced him with this hollow changeling.
David and I were never the best of friends. We were brothers, but a falling out years ago had made reunions between us silent incarcerations, rather than joyous homecomings. I don’t think you could have imagined two more different people in the world then David and I. As mechanically gifted as Dave was, as adventurous as he was, I was bookish and immensely gifted at only calling for estimates.
October 7, 2007, the week before Dad’s birthday, David was making the drive to Kelowna on a motor bike he considered his pride and joy. We don’t know his mood at the time or how fast he was going, but we do know that he hit something on the road, and crashed his bike into a light stanchion. His heart stopped immediately. David Peter Shalagan 1964-2007
Watching  my Mum and Dad saying goodbye to a son before their time is one of the most haunting images of my life. I have a picture of my Mum in her understated black garb, only causing the paleness of her English color to be amplified. What made it harder, I guess if that’s even possible, was that Mum and Dad couldn’t have kids, so they adopted David. (I came along later. I referred to myself as “The Miracle Child” I was also beaten into submission every day with a Fisher Price helicopter until I was 10). He was their first, their joy of joys.
I was in Houston the day David died. The phone call came at 6:23 AM, and my Dad’s quivering voice was all I needed to hear to know that something horrific had happened. After we hung up, I sat in my office at the house for hours, not really even aware of what had happened.

David was the biggest hockey fan I knew. He played in the local house league when we were kids, and no matter what was going on in our lives. Hockey was always a common ground for us. It seemed like those quiet car rides to the rink, or hot chocolates from the snack bar brought us together moreso than anything else did.
Like most men, sports were a bridge for us, a way to channel our feelings without having to actually talk about feelings. David and I had always been huge Canuck’s fans. We fell and rose with each game. Hell, sometimes it went from shot to shot. Even when he moved to Oiler or Jet country, he still kept his love of the boys in blue and green alive.
And like every other part of our muddled relationship, we argued over the Canucks too. “Why is Garth Snow in the net?  “The Keenan Era will be a glorious time for Canuck’s fans.” were some of our more celebrated arguments. It never seemed to matter what the situation was, we were just predestined to be on opposite ends of it. I miss that.
Today, we’ll wear our poppies, Today, we’ll hear “In Flanders Field”, and mourn those who paid the terrible price for our freedoms, but there’s so much more we can do for the men and women who have sworn to watch over us, to protect us.
For those that have chosen this life, the least we can do is pay them back.
Here are some links to hockey related charities throughout North America: that support our military.

www.defendingtheblueline.com – An organization that provides hockey equipment, coaching, clinics, etc.., for the children of military personnel.
www.nhlpa.com – The National Hockey League Players’ Association has a strong commitment to helping the military community.
www.nhl.com – The NHL is devoted to helping and celebrating the men and women of the Armed Forces.

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