MEMORIAL DAY MUSINGS
Ah, Memorial Day.
Yao Yao, our daughter, looks forward to it, the way I look forward to the trees budding and the smell of freshly cut grass. We make sure we get to town early enough to get a good spot on the our Memorial Day Parade route. Although we know what’s coming – every year it’s the same kids in scouting or sports uniforms, the same fife and drum and bagpipe corps, the same fire engines and DAR floats – we still crane our necks looking up the street in anticipation of the sights and sounds of the parade.
It’s our town in Connecticut, but it could be Anytown, USA.
It’s a day to remember, a day to be grateful for the sacrifices of others. My friend Laurie’s father, before retiring, was a fire chief in an upstate New York town, and she stands and clapped loudly for all the men and women in uniform. I jumped up, sort of embarrassed that I didn’t really take the few minutes to give all of these people who serve, the respect they deserve.
Laurie made a comment that gave me pause: “There are fewer and fewer of them every year,” she said. She was referring to the men and women who fought in World War II. I don’t think I would have noticed if she hadn’t mentioned it. I was too busy waving at friends and watching Yao Yao and Jack, our golden retriever, to stop think about why I was there in the first place.
Maybe it has to do with the fact that our immediate families made it through their respected wars relatively unscathed. Then again, Jim’s grandfather was a chaplain on an aircraft carrier and was killed by a rookie pilot who had asked him to be on the bridge praying for a safe landing – that was a pain that his mother lived with her entire life. But for Jim, this was more ancestral mythology without the painful immediacy his mother and grandmother felt.
When I was a child, my parents would take us to a local monument dedicated to those who gave the last full measure for their country. I can’t remember what the plaque said, but I remember I would salute it, and I remember it was very solemn thing. But somehow, thinking about those who had made the ultimate sacrifice had ceased to be part of Memorial Day. For us, it had become a time to count our blessings and celebrate life. It’s more a Rite of Spring in our family.
So in keeping with our traditions, it was Yao Yao’s idea to have a picnic lunch on our lawn, under the shade of our own pine trees. This time of year, the garden cooperates and blooms like crazy, the grass is thick and green, giving us a perfect carpet for a picnic – even the bees and mosquitos seem to give us a few weeks to enjoy ourselves unbitten and unharried. We made a variety of sandwiches: brie and baguette, BLTs on thick portugese rolls, and gruyere grilled cheese; deviled eggs; and a bounty of fresh berries. All of us together on blankets, a lovely spread before us, the dog by our side (and behaving, for once!) – what a bucolic scene!
After lunch, I broke the mood by reminding everyone about our trip to Myanmar, and how I became . . . well, some might say obsessed with what’s known as the Death Railway, where captured Allied troops were tortured, starved, and sometimes killed while being forced by the Japanese to build a railroad between Burma and Thailand. I asked if Yao Yao remembered us discussing it at the time, and she did, a little bit. I’m embarassed to say, had it not been for our upcoming Myanmar trip, I probably wouldn’t have ever read about this dark time in history or had any idea what those prisoners had endured.
We started talking about how scary it must be for our own U.S. soldiers and their families today and in the past and how lucky we are to have people who are willing to go and fight. We talked about what they fight for, and Yao Yao was surprisingly well informed and sensitive to their sacrifice, thanks to her teachers (and her own good character).
It was a great conversation, not too dark or emotional, and we all acknowledged how horrible war is for everyone, on all sides, and how lucky we are to have people who are willing to keep us safe, every day.
Then I might have dozed off for a good long while, because when I woke up, it was time to light the grill for our traditional “lobsterfest”. And so we marked another Memorial Day.
How did you and your family mark the day? Share your own Memorial Day memories in Comments.