I was a lucky kid, in that I got to spend lots of time with my grandparents and have lots of memories of them. One memory that is still vivid as an adult years later is the Decoration Day ritual.
I remember big black ants climbing all over my Grandma’s peonies. She planted lots of flowers and had what I would call a cutting garden, but I only remember peonies being ready for Decoration Day. The arrival of the ants was a sign that she would soon be cutting the flowers and our family would make the annual pilgrimage to the cemetery for Decoration Day.
As an adult I don’t remember whose graves we took flowers too. On that side of my family there were not many who served in the arm forces so suspect we just put flowers on assorted family member’s graves irrespective of if they passed away in service.
Grandma would create flower arrangements that were put in jars that had been saved for just that purpose from the goods we bought at the grocery. We would pile in to Grandpa’s oversized car, Grandpa, Grandma and whoever in the family had come for the day. I don’t remember much about the trip, if it was long or short. I could not tell you if we stopped at more than one cemetery, but I can clearly remember the jars filled with water and full of flowers to be delivered to honor loved ones. I can see the sloshing of the water and the rearranging of the flowers that my Grandma had so carefully selected with each bump and turn in the road. It was a moment of honoring those who were not there any longer. It was time for family. It was a passing of another season.
I still think of the day as Decoration Day, even though in 1971 Memorial Day became a federal holiday. I remember the rituals that allowed me to spend time with my Grandparents. I think of all the servicemen and women who gave their lives for this wonderful broken country. I honor and thank them and their families for their sacrifice. I hope we do them justice in how we live our lives.
My new job this summer has given me a new appreciation for the folks in the world who make the sacrifice of being away from home to support their family. I have traveled before for jobs I have held previously. In my most traveled position, I traveled only about 20% of the time. This job puts me away from home three nights a week. Being on the road this much has made me realize how much time so many people sacrifice to make it in life.
We have a friend who is a salesman for a company and covers everything west of the Mississippi. He has spent about 30+ weeks on the road for as long as I have know him (nearly 30 years now). He has two great adult children with families of their own. He and his wife have the kind of marriage we try to have as well, where each is there for the other and figure out ways to be there when it is critical. (There have been some pretty critical life moments for this family). I never before realized how amazing they were to make it all work with all his time away from home. When you think about all the divorce rates and kids who turn out in something less than their potential and then blame their family life. This family has weathered it all and not just survived, they have prospered. Their love, support and values have made the time that took the father/husband away so much a contributing factor to what they achieved, not a detriment or excuse for what they did not achieve.
My brother was in the Navy. He worked hard to be with his family as much as possible, but like the military people of past and present that isn’t always possible. There are big and small moments missed that can never be gotten back. I never thought about what it must be like to be a single parent for so long and then suddenly have someone show up and have the whole family dynamic change in a day. One day you get to make almost all decisions unilaterally and then the next there is someone there who wants to be a part of it all. One day the kids only deal with you and suddenly there is someone else who can say yes or no. It is a complete adjustment for the family, and rules are shifted in the space of a few hours. Yet the military people continue to make those sacrifices for their country and to support their family.
In both of these cases I have highlighted the person being away, but the trailing/at-home spouse and the kids make sacrifices as well. They quickly learn that this is their normal. That the parent is away because it is how must be for this family. There is nothing that can be accomplished by wanting a parental presence that can not be. They learn to appreciate the times they have and adjust with the changes that come with a moving set of how a family looks and functions. The “keep the home fires burning” parent often has a job as well. The only difference is that they get to sleep in their own bed at night. They often have to juggle their job, children and home with no one their to help. Kids may have to step up and grow up a little faster to help. It is a balancing act and a collaborative effort.
I had thought of this occasionally before. This job has given me a new appreciation for what one misses out on when you are gone, how they adjust when you blow in to town and that they will adjust again when you hit the road again. I know at the end of the summer my job will end, and I will be home every night again, but there are thousands of men and women that this is part of who they are and how they support their family. My hat is off to you because most of us can never imagine what that job costs you and your family. You are making under what can be very challenging conditions.
Today is Veteran’s Day. In writing this I reflect on all the members of my family who were served this country. As the family historian and researcher I have learned about those in my family who have served in wars and conflicts since the beginning of this country. My history is dotted with multiple great grandfathers who fought in the Revolutionary War; the War of 1812; the Mexican -American War; the Civil War both sides, Union and Confederate; and World War I and II. My father was a career man serving in both the Army and Air Force. My brother was the only one who served in the Navy. They were all enlisted men, regular US citizens who helped to make the country what it is today.
I don’t think I ever said thank you to any of them who I knew. Except for my brother they are all gone now. I hope I do them proud, and in spite of what JFK said I think I will call my brother today and tell him how proud I am of him and that I appreciate all he gave for me.
Today is the day we celebrate Memorial Day in the US. I am old enough to remember when Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30th. Buddy Poppys were sold and everyone had one. My hometown had a parade then ended with the local veteran’s group at the cemetery with a 21 gun salute for the military who had died.
At some point the US government thought it was more important to have a three-day holiday than to honor our military who died in service. Time has marched on. We now have an all volunteer army. We say we support our troops, but talk is cheap. Our military force is so much smaller, and many of the citizens no long have a connection to our military. Most of us don’t have a brother, sister, uncle, aunt, father, mother cousin, sweetheart or neighbor who is currently serving or could be in harms way. When I was in high school boys worried about being sent to Vietnam. Everyone seemed to know someone who was affected by the war. Of the thousands who have died and been wounded in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I don’t personally know a single family that has been affected in that way. This personal distance and moving the holiday to a more convenient Monday has cause a loss of the meaning of Memorial Day.
Maybe it is time for this holiday to be returned back to May 30 and force us all to think about why this holiday exists. It is not a three-day holiday. It is more than a day off of work. Godspeed and thanks to all those who have given their lives in service of our country.