We were having a birthday party yesterday on our deck and I was reminded that at 3 PM was “Taps Across America”. I don’t have an instrument, so walked outside prepared to play taps on my phone, when a clear, soulful rendition began a few streets away. We all paused and gave our thanks. Thank you to whomever shared that beautiful sound – we appreciate you.
Today we celebrate Memorial Day or as it used to be called, Decoration Day. This is a federal holiday in the United States for remembering the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces. The holiday is currently observed every year on the last Monday of May.
Growing up, it was the start of summer! We NEVER went swimming before Memorial day, and never after labor day. In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, it was just too cold. Heck, most likely, the ice just went out on our lake within the past 2 – 3 weeks.
In the week preceding Memorial Day, my mom and dad would make their annual visit to a local greenhouse and choose the green and flowering plants they would put in the “baskets” that would adorn the graves of our ancestors. This was a big deal where I lived, and once a week in the summer, we took a ride to the cemetery to water these baskets. They were long green containers that had legs, rectangular in shape, and dad would fill them with fresh dirt, and mom would plant geraniums and greens in them. Those were probably the heartiest plants that could survive a hot summer with only a weekly watering.
Since the danger of frost was not past yet if the evening was especially chilly, we’d have to be ready for a quick drive to cover up the baskets with a sheet – we didn’t want to risk losing our plants so early in the season.
Putting flowers on the graves of our loved ones was an important practice to the greatest generation. We would visit both sides of the families at the cemetery. It was a source of disrespect and shame to not have the gravesites properly ‘decorated’ by Memorial Day.
As a student growing up in the area, our school band participated in a parade to the cemeteries from the school each year. Dressed in our hot, scratchy, wool band uniforms complete with plumed hats, we did a slow march to the cemetery to the tune of a sad sounding funeral dirge. We then spent an hour in the hot sun listening to veterans speaking and paying our respect. Afterward, we had a picnic. The first of the season.
Memory is a funny thing – we had to memorize the poem “In Flanders Fields” and to this day I still can recite the entire piece – and just picture the poppies lining the French countryside after WW1.
In Flanders Fields
BY JOHN MCCRAE
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
So, take some time today to remember those who died for our freedom. We are the land of the free, home of the brave. I am grateful.