Memorial Day, like most holidays, has changed over the years. Christmas had morphed into one commercial bonanza with a bearded red suit leading the way. Easter is all about jelly beans and scruffy looking man-bunnies waiting at malls for kids to climb onto their laps.
I’d say Thanksgiving is doing ok since we had the first one. Thanks, pilgrims, for making pumpkin pie. It’s a fine tradition. I am thankful.
But, Memorial Day began as a solemn rememberance of those who served and lost their lives while fighting for freedom. In 2012, it has turned into a three day weekend. Today there is no garbage pickup and the banks and post offices are closed. Everything else is open for business. Sure, families have picnics and if it is warm enough, pools are opened.
Yet, there are many who know too well what this day clearly stands for. It is a day to reflect and remember those who lost their lives while serving and defending our country.
When I was growing up, my dad was the one who instilled in us what Memorial Day truly meant. My dad served in World War II, stationed in Alaska while building airstrips and in Okinawa.
Later on, he belonged to the VFW and the American Legion, among other organizations. He was in every parade every year, dressed in uniform, carrying the flag, representing the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He was one real live proud veteran. And he made us aware of what war could do to a nation and how soldiers should be shown every day how proud we are that they put their lives on the line for us. Some never made it home. How sad.
It’s funny, but my dad never really told us what he did in the war. A lot of dads were like that. I was told he was a typist, then he build airstrips. And that he had to have his appendix taken out while stationed in Okinawa. Was never told what he did in Okinawa.
We had a flag pole in our backyard and every Memorial Day, Flag Day, Veterans Day, and Fourth of July, we would march like little soldiers up to the flag pole. My brother David really got into it. He would salute the whole way from the back porch to the flag pole. My dad had us stand across from each other, as we all unfolded the flag. My dad would then raise the flag and we would salute. Dear God, don’t let the flag touch the ground. That was a hard rule to follow when you are little. Dad said if a flag touched the ground, it would have to be burned. I thought that didn’t make any sense. I just looked it up and it is an urban legend. My dad would be amused.
I don’t remember how old I was when we did this, but I do remember for some reason my dad put a Sylvester puddy cat head from a bath bubble bottle at the top of the flag pole. It sat there for years…on top of the flag pole. I think the metal finial that was once there either fell off during a wind storm or time rusted the little silver topper, but Sylvester is what he found as its replacement.
Bubble bath soap bottle. Unscrew the head and put it at the top of your flag pole.
Years later, after my dad had passed away and we built a house out in the country, I met our elderly neighbor, Ada.
And every Memorial Day, before I even think of my father who was a veteran, and before I think of those who lost their lives serving our country, I think of Ada.
I don’t know why, but Ada always comes to mind. Every year, first thing that pops into my head.
Ada, who lost her love during World War II.
They were engaged and he just never came home. And she never ever talked about him. I had to hear it from another neighbor.
“She was young and in love and they were going to get married right before he left, but they ran out of time. And he was killed.”
And that just broke my heart. Here was this woman, who lived in this small, wonderful home, full of antiques and memories, with no one to share it with, other than her precious dog, her faithful companion. Her sister lived with her until her death, but for the most part, she was always alone after her love never was able to return home. I was told she never wanted to marry.
And so Ada lived on until her memory of him and everything else faded. I remember helping her hunt for her dog when she said he was lost. My son and I searched the neighborhood, frantic, looking for Sam the dog. When I checked back in with her, Sam was sleeping on the couch. She told me, “Oh, not Sam, the other dog.” The other dog had died some twenty years earlier. It was a long goodbye and I missed talking to my neighbor after she died.
So, yes, Memorial Day is a “day to reflect and honor those who have given their all to service to their country.” Yet, it is Ada I think about first today. Her loss was profound, yet she lived a long and independent life. I wrote this poem when I was in college after a break up, but always thought it would be pertinent for a loss of any kind.
and with each morning sun
comes the thought of you
and the smiles left behind.
Tears will dry
and wounds will heal,
but memories linger on.
In the end, I think Americans do a pretty good job at remembering what this day stands for. Sure, like I mentioned, it is a three day weekend full of outdoor activities with the family. It is also a day for memories of all those who we love who have passed. And that is great, too. But, above all, it is a day to reflect upon what sacrifice truly means and to honor all those who have served our country. My thoughts are with them and their loved ones.