Monday, October 06, 2008

Fifteen years isn't as long as you think, but it's also even longer than you think... least that's the contradiction I've become convinced is the case after attending my own 15-year reunion at RMC Ex-Cadet Weekend these past few days. Allow me to descend into the personal for a moment here...

The tempo of Ex-Cadet weekend seems timeless to me: Recruit Obstacle Course on Friday, Badging Parade on Saturday, March to the Arch on Sunday. That basic framework has remained unchanged since I was a Recruit joining the Cadet Wing myself. But the weekend has become so much more for me.

My class (Class of '93! BOHICA!) got caught up with each other at the Cadet Mess on the Friday evening. It never ceases to amaze me how, when you get people together who knew each other when they were nineteen, in the same place they were when they were nineteen, they revert back to nineteen all over again.

Which is a long way of saying we all drank too much.

On Saturday, after the parade, a few of us were stupid brave enough to take on the Cadets on the rugby pitch. I originally thought it was their "A" side, although I was informed after the match it was likely their "B" side. I hope it wasn't their "C" side, as I'm not sure my fragile ego could take that much of a hit.

Sixteen years is a long time between matches; you'd have needed a grinder and a free afternoon to get all the rust off my game. After having a young - God, was he young! - cadet blaze past me for a try, I wondered whether we'd been that fast when we were cadets. We certainly weren't anymore.

As one of my buddies said after watching me chase a deep kick: "Damian, I saw you searching for that elusive sixth gear. Keep trying."

Not even my high-speed, low drag hairdo was enough to make up for the years gone by. And, of course, I'm paying for it today with muscles and joints that have decided they really, really don't like me much anymore.

I note that my buds have yet to admit it's time for them to go high-speed, low-drag as well...those hairlines are in full retreat, gents.

Saturday night involved more visiting, more reminiscing, more laughing, and more drinking. Stages is still a meat-market, as we discovered watching from across the street at Grizzlies, but Dollar Bills is long gone. At least one of us has discovered that Lieutenant Colonels aren't the infallible gods we were taught they were at young cadets; he'll be buying me beer at the mess when his promotion to LCol comes through in a month or so.

Some of us are long out of the CF, some are still going strong in uniform. Only one seems to have gotten his hair to pony-tail length so far, but he's a musician, so the rest of us don't razz him too badly. It's amazing how much everyone seems to be thriving. It's amazing how well we still get along.

Sunday morning came quickly, and with it the March to the Arch.

Before I get to that, I have to tell you about the laugh I got at breakfast that day. We were eating at a prominent greasy spoon in downtown Kingston, and the place was packed with Ex-Cadets and their spouses. At one table just beside us, an elegant lady sat down with her husband and another couple, and she was wearing her husband's class leather jacket. It said RRMC '83 on the back (Royal Roads, now sold and civilianized), but a patch on the arm caught my attention: LCWB.

For the uninitiated, that stands for Last Class With Balls. Women were admitted to the College for the first time the year after.

Back to the thread: for those who have never seen it, on the Sunday morning of Ex-Cadet weekend, the Ex-Cadets form up on the parade square, march up a route lined by saluting cadets to the Memorial Arch, remember fallen comrades, then march back down to the parade square again.

There were smiles and laughs in the ranks when the spectators started applauding a competently executed right turn, a pretty simple movement. I suspect some in the ranks were as pleasantly surprised they remembered how to execute the drill as the gathered audience was!

The largest contingent on parade was the Old Brigade - venerable gentlemen in black berets who entered the College at least fifty years ago. The rest of the Ex-Cadets were told to step short in deference to some of the eldest. But they all marched tall, and in step.

This was the most moving moment of the weekend, for me. Two fourth year cadets were presented with the Nichola Goddard and Matthew Dawe memorial swords for being the top-ranked of their year in the Artillery and Infantry classifications respectively. When the keen infantry fourth-year cadet took the sword from the outstretched hands of Dawe's young son, then crouched down to speak with the boy, there were quite a few of us whose vision went a bit blurry for a minute or two.

These two cadets had received a singular honour, and the nice thing is, they knew it.

I was quite surprised to see a new tradition at the end of the parade. When I was a cadet, we were marched off the square, then dismissed out of sight of the gathered crowd. This year, the Cadet Wing was dismissed on the square at the same time as the Ex-Cadets, and both were encouraged to join in the middle and visit. Imagine little crowds of eighteen- and twenty-year-olds gathered around the men (and a few women in the past couple of decades) of generations past, listening in rapt attention as the stories flow. It was extraordinary, for both the young and the old.

The more time passes since my own experiences at RMC, the more the bad stuff - and there was plenty of hardships, frustrations, stupidity, and immaturity to go around in the early 90's - fades into the background, and the good stuff rises to the top. Intellectually, I can remember the troubles, but the only feelings I seem to be able to recall at this point are the happy and proud ones. I'm grateful for that.

The older I get, the more I'm glad to be associated with my classmates and the larger RMC community. That's an awfully rosy sentiment from someone who left the College so bitter and jaded, especially since the weekend was more raucous and irreverent than sentimental, but it's true nonetheless.

Gimme a beer!

Beer! Esses! Emma! T-D-V! Who can stop old RMC! Shrapnel, cordite, NCT! R-M-C! Hooah!

Update: Apparently there's video evidence of that rugby match. The bald winger on the far side is me, and I remember the play. When you see me disappear into that sea of bodies, and another fellow take the ball out the other side, it's because I held the ball and made the defender commit to tackling me - hard - before passing it off. I paid for that the next day, let me tell you. There's "in shape" and there's "in contact shape," and I'm not the latter anymore...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Babbling . . time for a new Handle.

"Slick" seems appropriate :)

Looks like fun was has by all.

4:00 p.m., October 06, 2008  

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