In these times, I question what to do at Memorial Day. What, with the War on Terror and all the other stuff happening, it seems honors for Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines occur every day. It makes me wonder why we even have a Memorial Day.
I remember what we did as a family every year when I was a kid. You and Mom loaded me into the back of the family truckster with a bunch of cheap plastic flowers from Alco. Then, we’d drive a couple of hours to a host of different cemeteries in Missouri where we unloaded the cheap flowers near the headstones of past family members–most of whom I’d never met.
We’d always meet other family members there. Uncles and aunts, cousins, great uncles, great aunts, and a few I just couldn’t figure out. As long as you said they were family, that was fine with me. You’d talk with them about the people whose names were on those graves. Stories about a grandmother smacking you with a switch. Memories of being fired from the railroad repeatedly by your uncle, and then rehired moments later. Thoughts of how your dad reacted when you enlisted in the Army on our country’s entry into WWII. Memories of your mother reading. They were cute stories, and some were even funny. I remember those. Some of the memories weren’t so good, but don’t worry, I’ve forgotten them all the same.
I remember the plastic poppy you’d buy at the same cemetery every year. It stayed on the dash of our car until you replaced it the next Memorial Day. You’d try to explain it, but I never really understood. Not as a kid.
Most of the men from our family had flags near their headstones. You said it was because they served in one war or another. I thought that was cool. You always mentioned what branch of the service they were in, and what war. It seems there was one just in time for every generation. It made me wonder what mine would be.
I remember you talking with my uncles and your cousins about your war. Everyone had a story. Most made us kids laugh. I’m sure you guys had stories that weren’t funny, but you never told those. There were a lot of tales.
I want you to know that I liked yours the best.
You weren’t a General, and you didn’t command an Army. You didn’t win a lot of medals, and you were never cited for bravery. You were never in a film, and your name is not on a monument. But, you were mine.
Annually, Uncle Jim would argue with you about who had it harder in the war. Uncle Jim was at Normandy, but you spent four years in north Africa. Neither budged. You both held your ground, and the discussion invariably ended the same as it did the year before. I know now that neither of you could win. After all, it was about war.
When you talked about all those things, I listened. I know you believed that all I thought about was lunch or when we’d finally leave for home (I could be a fidgety little cuss), but I was listening. Really. I remember everything you said about your uncles, and your dad. I remember each member of our family who was a veteran, and even your friends. You taught me why they were important.
Of the lot, though, you’re my favorite. You always will be.
I know now that Memorial Day is important. Not because of what you said, but because of what you did. It makes me proud.
PS. I’d give almost anything to hear one of your stories again. I miss you more than you will ever know.