It's a bit silly to look back on a simpler -- or at least less
cluttered -- time and long to recreate those moments. But as the days
longer and warmer perhaps longings such as these are to be expected.
picnic, the block party, the community parade, barbequed burgers and
triple-decker sherbet cone from the local ice cream shop, badminton in
yard, a bike ride just before dusk and catching a firefly or two. These
some of the memories of Memorial Days long ago.
But I also remember my dad standing patiently along the parade
route every year as each of his three children marched in the local
bands. I was the youngest, so I got to see more of my dad's
than either my older sister or brother did.
Dad was a World War II veteran, as were all four of his older
brothers. He served in the US Army from the day he was drafted in 1941
in 1945. He had terrible eyesight so he was assigned to do the
and be the paymaster of his unit, so he was not often -- by his own
account -- in
harm's way during his service. He did manage to sustain an injury one
night as he and a few of his buddies ran through a field after partying a
too much and he fell on a gun stand and cut his eyelid. At least that's
the story was always told by my mom. I only knew he hated chicken
said it was served way too much in the Army. Dad never talked much
soldiering with me, and he lost plenty of his friends in that war.
So every Memorial Day I'd stand at his side, watching as he
cheered his kids in the band, but also watching him raise his hand and
over his heart every single time the flag passed by as part of a parade
Sometimes he'd salute when a group of soldiers marched by. He never
told me to
put my hand over my heart when I saw a passing flag; in fact he was
during those moments and not worried about what I did or what others
With the Viet Nam war raging through my formative years, I
remember feeling conflicted about watching this aging soldier and father
adored show so much deference to the flag and practice such clear-minded
patriotism while I heard so much from people who wanted peace. It would
pattern of conflicted thoughts and opinions I faced as a young woman
considering many issues of the time: civil rights, the war on poverty,
Equal Rights Amendment for women and other domestic concerns. My views
often not what my dad's were -- I was the leftie in a family of
But my dad never urged me to be otherwise.
The years raced by. My dad is gone. Never once did he try to
deter me from my moral, political or social views. The last year that
a vote in a Presidential election, he did not vote for the Republican --
urging. He came home from the polls, called me and said, "It's all
kid." I had convinced him that he was casting a vote for future
not his own. I have always wondered if I will have the courage to love
much. And I stood by him every chance I got at parades. I loved him so
and admired the quiet but strong inner peace he had surrounding his love
I'm having more trouble with that this year. This Memorial Day I
am feeling a bit gut-punched. Oil is fouling the Gulf Coast.
running my government, spending my hard-earned money with the bail-out
and choosing what my healthcare will or will not be. One of my sons is
somewhere in Afghanistan serving with the US Army and not speaking to me
because he believes my priorities are disordered as I advocate for peace
healthcare justice here at home.
My other kids and grandkids are spread out all over the country
from Michigan to Colorado to California, and we don't have summer
together or stand on the curb to watch parades go by. We chat by text
when there is an emergency or the occasional obligatory holiday call.
odd long distance, high-tech sort of family unit that my dad would have
understanding. But many American families deal with these sorts of
This Memorial Day I find myself wondering what makes me think I
can change even one tiny piece of the national scene in the United
the big-money interests control so much that we face leaving our kids
grandkids a planet in far worse shape than we found it, a nation less
less stable than we found it, states and cities more dangerous and run
than when we were children and neighborhoods left with little sense of
neighborhood at all. We work harder for less, and most of the people I
seem generally pretty unhappy unless they find a way to medicate away
Is it too late? Are we too far gone? Am I foolish to believe
can still change the course with enough courage and passion and hard
by making better connections with one another? Or is my view tainted by
experience as one who lost all to the greedy healthcare system and who
to claw her way out of the damage? Am I wrong to think we can still
enough about one another and our world to change the course?
Memorial Day 2010. So far away from what used to be reality and
way too close to realities I often feel powerless to change. Maybe my
this whole exercise in citizenship and loving one's country would not be
easy one but that a simple act of remembrance of all those who lost
in the struggle so we all could fight on would be an anchor of sanity
things seemed so out of control.
My hand is over my heart, Dad. I'm trying. Happy Memorial Day.