I’ve been thinking of my home town, and how my dad would cut the lawn early on the holiday and then bang around the garage for the old American flag he’d hang on a lamp post by the street.
Once we heard the faint crack of rifles in the distance, followed by drums, we’d race to the top of the street to catch the parade as it rolled by.
I was afraid of the fire trucks, but loved the marching bands. I clapped for the military men holding flags, and also for veterans in open convertibles inching to ceremonies at the cemetery.
Where I played on gravestones during endless speeches while my father chatted with friends. And where I begged him to stop talking long after it was done and people had left so we could get home to the party.
Which was comprised of aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents, and friends as close as family, who all crammed into the house and backyard – to laugh and eat and sing and drink– until long after the sun had gone down.
Memorial Day meant less than a month left of school, and just two weeks to my birthday. With such love and excitement and constancy year after year, I fully believed we’d all live forever. Death had no place in my plans.
I keep an old photo of my family near my laptop so the memory is always with me. Three of the seven are gone now along with my godparents, the aunts and uncles, the grandparents, and many of the friends.
I know it’s all part of growing older, and of life, of course, the bringer of blessings and heartbreak. But still.
This year will be different now that my son has joined the Army. I’m so proud of him and work hard to keep perspective, banishing the what-ifs that try to sneak into my thoughts.
I’m in a different town now, but on Monday I’ll reach for tradition and hang my dad’s flag. Then I’ll walk down the street to the parade. Where I’ll think about my son, and the legions of others serving our country, and I’ll clap for the old veterans as they ride by.
But my heart, too, will be with the family, and those days from so long ago. I’ll be missing them and loving them, and wishing beyond all reality that somehow they were here.
Which, I think, in the greater sense, they are. And if that thought keeps me a little bit closer to the memories and the people, then I’m thinking it’s probably OK.