Friday, May 23, 2008
Memorial Day is for Remembering
In the United States on the last Monday in May we celebrate Memorial Day. This is a time to honor American men and women who died in military service to their country. It was started to honor Union soldiers who died during the Civil War, but now includes all who died in any war or military action.
We have spread out the memorial now to include remembering past family members and friends. Cemeteries are full of people during this time bringing crosses, flags, and flowers to place on graves. It almost feels like a huge celebration of a family reunion.
Memorial Day also signals the start of summer. Pools open, schools close, barbecue contests are held, folks grill in the parks. It's picnic, shorts, and vacation time.
This year I got my memorial bouquets early and they have been riding around in the trunk of the car for at least a month. If you take them to the cemetery before the actual Memorial Day weekend, the ground folks will remove them as trash as they prepare to make the place all spiffy for the onslaught of family members during the three day weekend.
My grandfather was very proud of his naval duty served during World War I. He even sported a Naval tattoo on forearm. My father, who was drafted at the ripe old age of 38, not so much. He served during the end of World War II. Since then, no family member has been in the military.
Grandfather joined the Navy sometime around 1916 - 17. He was stationed at the Waukegan, Illinois naval base at the Great Lakes. He never saw duty overseas. My grandmother joined him there in a rented room and tried to earn a meager living doing sewing. I gather they were very poor. They were stationed there during the the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 which killed more people than died during World War I. Grandmother wrote letters back home, telling of the scope of the scourge at the naval base. With so many clustered together, this flu proved horribly deadly. Both grandparents had some flu symptoms which affected most horribly those between the ages of 20 and 40. This was unusual, as the flu usually attacks the very young and very old.
Dad was drafted at the end of World War II and spend his tour of duty in Enid, Oklahoma. He never much talked about his army life; Mother, however, complained about how much she missed him though they were not married at the time. I've never seen any letters from that time. I do have Dad's Bible that was presented to him as he left to join the Army.
Grandfather wanted a military presence at his funeral with a flag draped coffin. He left specific orders that his service in the Navy was to be remembered. I think Dad left no funeral instructions at all; Mother handled all the details and there was no funeral. She held a touching Memorial Service for him at the church he had attended in his later years and Hubby and I were invited to attend, which we did.
This afternoon I'll drive out to the cemetery and place red, white, and blue vases of carnations and flags on the graves of both Grandfather and Dad. I'll clean off the grass which will have grown around the edges of the graves and wipe away the rain spots. I'll talk a moment with my grandmother who was the first to be buried in the family plot. I'll tell her how much I miss her calming presence in my life. I'll remind Grandfather that he always promised to take me dog sledding in the Klondike -- and I'm still waiting for that trip. I'll tell Dad that Mother is still kicking around in the mountains, living life and standing strong for what she thinks is right and proper. I'll remember the happy times with my family.
Then I'll jump in the car with my sweet hubby and my beautiful fur children and we will start our summer -- by going off to see Indiana Jones at the movie theater. Grandfather would approve!