Today is the “official” Memorial Day, but as far as I’m concerned, May 30th is the real Memorial Day, no matter what day of the week it is. For the record.
So I’m an old fart. I’m okay with that.
“Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day, honey” Oma told me years ago, when I was certainly old enough to know this already (or at least remember it). “We would go to the cemetery with flowers and ‘decorate’ the graves of soldiers who had died in battle.”
Today…how is it celebrated…or…advertised? I opened this morning’s local newspaper and found a handful of colorful sales flyers…each with a common theme:
Memorial Day value
RED WHITE & BLUE SALE
Memorial Day SALE shop 2-day Door Busters
MEMORIAL DAY sale ALL YOU NEED FOR WHEREVER SUMMER TAKES YOU
MEMORIAL DAY RED, WHITE & BLUE SALES EVENT 5 DAYS ONLY
Memorial Day: another holiday married to massive sales events throughout the country. A one day sale. A two day sale. A five day sale. Another excuse for a sale. That’s common in this consumer driven culture we live in, but…really?
I personally was never aware of anyone in my family’s history who died in a war. As far as I know, my living relatives either survived or did not serve in the military; except for my father. He served his two years in the states during the Korean War but his number wasn’t called to deploy. I came of age during the Vietnam War – I was too young to actively protest, but was horrified by what I saw on television. By the time I graduated from college, the war had been over for several years. I didn’t know anyone who served there.
And then…there was Mrs. Lynch.
When I was a child (11 years old +/-) – and my parents went on a trip – my favorite babysitter Mrs. Lynch stayed overnight with my two sisters, brother and me. She wore a freshly starched white uniform (similar to what a nurse would wear), giving us the sense that we were in the hands of a professional. A short woman, with thin curly hair (maybe pulled back under a hairnet); she had a thick Irish accent & a high pitched voice. I thought she was “old” at the time, but she was probably only in her late 60’s or early 70’s. (I say “only” now because my perspective is altogether different). She also made the best french toast, grilled cheese sandwiches (I think it was all the butter….) and pork chops ever. But I mostly remember her stories. Mrs. Lynch often told me about mailing care packages to her sons during “the war.” I am fairly sure she was referring to World War II. I had never heard any stories like that before and I wish I could remember more about them now. The emotion in her voice was palpable as she described packing up snacks and goodies for her “boys.” I do remember that. The worry and fear and fierce love wrapped in with the only thing she could do for them at the time. The son of a friend of mine enlisted after 9/11. My friend was also in that dark place until he came back from Iraq.
My childhood diaries mark Memorial Day – May 30th – as the day I watched and/or marched in parades as a Girl Scout, went swimming at the local pool, played baseball in the street and had cookouts with friends. I also noted it was our dog’s birthday. And no school! – if it was a weekday. The year I turned 14, however, we spent Memorial Day cleaning the house, going through boxes in our overstuffed basement and changing the sheets on the beds. No parade. No barbecues. After that year, I have no record or memory of what our family did, if anything, to mark Memorial Day.
So today, for the first time in at least 50 years, I went to a Memorial Day parade. I now live in a small rural New England town. It was a cloudy and chilly morning for May. I looked out the window at…well, gloom. Was it raining too? I stuck my head out the door to check. No, it wasn’t raining. By then it was 10:30 am. The parade had started at 10:00. Finding a parking place could prove challenging.
I am not familiar with the downtown back roads here yet, so thank goodness for GPS. The music of drums, trumpets and flutes grew progressively louder as I pulled into a parking space near the end of the parade route – near the town War Memorial. Just a block away from the main street, I made it to a spot on the sidewalk as the initial motorcade of police officers approached – blue motorcycle lights flashing. The sides of the street were lined with women, men, children, babies in strollers, dogs on leashes. Many were waving small flags. Then came the marchers: Firefighters. Boy Scouts. Daisy Scouts. Girl Scouts. Daughters of the American Revolution. The local historical society. The high school marching band was, by far, the largest group in the parade. It passed by playing “It’s a Grand Old Flag” in near perfect unison.
Much to my surprise, I almost immediately felt a lump form in my throat. Which didn’t go away for many minutes. The music. The earnest young faces trying to keep step with each other. The elderly firefighter walking with a cane. Those faces could have been anywhere. Any time. Any place.
And the flatbed truck with white crosses and flags.
The parade marchers eventually stopped at the war memorial, across the street from where I was standing. The band members turned to face it. There was a short service and presentation by town officials. The origin of Memorial Day was explained. As was the Missing Man Table. The involvement of our town’s soldiers in the Civil War was mentioned. We all recited The Pledge of Allegiance together. A young girl tried her best to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” and everyone clapped. A 21 gun salute followed and then I heard someone playing “Taps.” We all stood and watched and clapped and put our hands on our hearts.
It has been many, many years since I stood with a group of Americans and said The Pledge of Allegiance at a ceremony honoring fallen war veterans.
“The Star Spangled Banner,” always played before my kids’ high school basketball games, seemed a much better fit on this Memorial Day morning.
And those sale flyers? They are in recycling.