It began simply enough. Just one of those things parents do to support their kids.
In 1991, we’d just moved to Saskatchewan from Ontario, and our son decided to sign up for Sea Cadets. The Preacher and I went to a few Branch (parent) meetings, but he never stopped. Next thing I knew, they sat side by side at the kitchen table polishing two pairs of military boots. Rubbing with yellow cloth and black wax till they could see their faces in the leather.
Anthony didn’t seem to mind when his Dad became a civilian officer, then, two years later a commissioned officer. Rick and a few other officers, among them his friend and fellow officer, Shawn Stoneham, flipped positions between Administration and Commanding Officers every few years, as per protocol.
Sometimes the Preacher handed out trophies at yearly inspection. Taught classes. Marched down the lines where Anthony stood at attention beside his friends, pole still. Impeccable in their dark uniforms and white hats. Waiting their turn to be inspected.
I sewed on badges until my fingers bled. Became familiar with the jargon. Bos’n and Cox’n and Petty Officers First and Second class. Swab the deck and tidy the galley; aye, aye and adrift. And all that in a school gymnasium on our landlocked prairie. Not a boat or sea in sight. In summer, the Cadets sailed Lasers at York Lake. I did too, once. I always wished I could fly, and that day, I did.
Our son must have felt that the summer at camp when he climbed to the crow’s nest near the top of the main mast of a tall ship. He breathed in the sea that summer. But he said nothing to me about the crow’s nest. Not until his feet touched solid ground and long after Quadra Island and the Pacific lay behind him.
I remember a frigid Remembrance Day when Anthony served as sentry at one corner of the Yorkton cenotaph. Poppy aflame, he stood, head bowed, hands on the butt of his rifle. He never raised a finger to catch the drip poised on the tip of his nose, reflecting the pallid morning sun. He looked like a soldier and I shivered.
Our boy aged out of Cadets at eighteen, eventually packing up his memories, leaving home and trophies behind. Technology rose like a toxic red tide. Enrollment dwindled. Sub-lieutenant Gibson (the Preacher) stayed on a dozen years or more, working with a few other faithful officers, to keep the corps alive. Even returning after a mosquito gave him West Nile, almost killed him and sent him into exile for a long year of hospitalization and rehab.
When the corps closed a few years ago, a still-thriving Military Cadet corps in the next city wanted the Preacher, naval uniform and all. He transferred over. At sixty-five, he accepted a chrome watch engraved with his name and dates of service as a commissioned officer: Nov 26, 1995 – February 10, 2018. Then he donned civvies and the next week backed down the steep steps with his walker, back to his little downstairs office at the Melville Legion, to keep those Army Cadets properly administered. He still does that.
Life is made up of strings of doings. Parades of weeks and years, passels of pleasures and tasks. Some don’t matter for eternity. Many do. Gathering with other believers helps us stay strong in faith. Soldiers for Jesus, united in the spiritual battle against the enemy of our souls. That matters.
And in a way only God knows, for hundreds of young people brushing shoulders with a strong and committed believer who lived out Jesus’ love for them, I believe those weeks and years of Cadets matter too.