REMEMBERING MEMORIAL DAY
… and I heard her murmur…
… ‘now don’t you forget what I told you…’
I was 12 years old. It was 1966. My grandmother’s older sister and her husband were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. Aunt Min and Uncle Bob were great people. She was a kind and gentle woman with a Methodist faith. We loved to hear her play an old pump organ and I never saw her not smile. He was a ‘tinkerer’ with an engineer’s mind. He built birdhouses and manger scenes (the Christmas crèche kind) and was known to say “Judas Priest” when he heard things that were upsetting. He taught my father how to pitch horse shoes and that passion lingers still in me. Lots of folks showed up for their big day. Fifty years is a long time to grow a family. The years will fill a family with lot of love and make room for a lot of remembering. They’d scene much. Some worth repeating. Some not. Their home was where my father’s mother’s side of the family gathered to celebrate Memorial Day and that’s why this story is worth repeating.
When it comes to hawks and doves and war and peace I’ve always leaned to the peace side and have flown with the doves more than those who readied the fight. I punched a friend in 5th grade ( he deserved it after 3 warnings!) and spanked my children (once each!); but other than that I’ve not raised a fist at anyone and will always look for the peaceful way to bring any conflict to a close. But, when you are 12 years old, you are just chalking up your own memories, lacking the needed skills for adult behavior, and whether you like it or not you have to listen to the ‘elders’ in your life. They always want the best for the generations that follow them and take license to offer an opinion even when those words are unsolicited. Aunt Min did that to me on that day. Years later, now, one learns the stories and experience of our own lives provide the filter for how we engage the future and how we want to include others along the way.
Obviously, at a 50th wedding anniversary there is lots of noise and laughter and all the eating and drinking that is attached with a day like that. Most people were sharing good words and encouragement to Uncle Bob and Aunt Min and thanking them for their faithfulness and the wonderful things they had accomplished. But, anyone who has been married 50 years and adds about 20 more to it will also acknowledge the dark images that are impossible to forget. So, imagine this— the children were playing in the yard and having all kinds of fun. Water balloons, croquet, and tag were on the agenda and in the midst of all that noise Aunt Min took a moment to call me off to the corner. And this is how that conversation went… one-sided as it was…
“I’m so glad you got come to this party. Your grandma Irene is so special to me. You know Uncle Bob and I watched over her and your dad when your grandparents divorced,” she said.
I never knew my paternal grandfather. I saw him once but no words were spoken. He loved Seagram’s 7 more than the Savior and in 1944 when my father was 14 his mother, tired of getting beat, up filed for divorce. A bold thing in a war-time nation. Uncle Bob and Aunt Min offered the family safety net that most families do. Love requires nothing less. But, she went on…
“I know you are a pretty smart boy. I hope you read the paper and listen to the news,” she continued.
I nodded my head up and down to say, ‘yes.’ She had an agenda.
“So, you know that this war in Viet Nam is not going to end soon,” her voice getting soft and serious. “You can count on this war continuing when you are 18 and if you get drafted I want you to promise me you won’t fight and you’ll go to Canada.”
At age 12, six years was already half of my life and 6 more seemed pretty far off even though she was gonna be pretty right. My draft number was 123, but in 1972 then President Nixon began pulling our troops out of Viet Nam, suspended the draft and no one from my graduation class was called up. So, Aunt Min was pretty right, the war lasting longer and yet, I didn’t go Canada. I never asked her ‘why’ and it took some time for me to discover why she said… “… ‘now don’t you forget what I told you…’. Memorial Day had a new kind of remembering.
Memorial Day began at the conclusion of the American Civil War. “Decoration Day” was instituted by Union soldier survivors and their families bringing a flowery honor to the graves of those who died in battle. Confederate families did a similar thing but it wasn’t until after WW 2 Memorial Day was set for the last Monday in May. It’s not to be confused with Veteran’s Day, where we honor all who have served in branches of the military. Memorial Day’s focus is on those who have died in battle, those who gave their life via the ‘last full measure’ as President Lincoln wrote. Although, mothers and fathers have honored the battle dead for 1000’s of years because that’s what families do, it is a unique kind of remembering we do officially this weekend. So, please take a moment… first in church… and then on Monday to recall the names of those you know who sacrificed their lives to assure the freedom we have access to day after day in the US of A.
It seems, though, there are some who have died while serving in the military during non-combat time. Richard, Uncle Bob and Aunt Min’s son was one of those. My father’s cousin, “Dickie,” served in the US Army and while standing with others on the tarmac was killed by debris from a plane crash during a practice run.
And I heard her murmur… again… today…
… ‘now don’t you forget what I told you…’
Love is a never-ending season. It shows up with a vengeance on a weekend like this. Trust God’s grace. It’s all we can really count on.