When I was little, Memorial Day meant a three-day long picnic with my extended family and family-friends. It meant swimming in the creek, catching frogs, playing volleyball, riding dirt bikes and horses in the dusty red clay of the California canyons and swinging on an old wooden swing over the ravine from my favorite oak tree. There were bonfires, pickup baseball games, and a whole pig, every year, cooked in the ground. Memorial Day comprises many of the happiest memories of my childhood. (Also, clearly shirts were optional in 1978)
I sometimes kick around the idea starting a tradition like my family had- but the truth is, Memorial Day means something different to me— despite being forever linked to these people. Most of the dads and uncles in my family are veterans. My own dad served two tours of duty in Vietnam, and for them, with it so fresh in their recent past, the way to remember, I suspect, was to forget. Living their lives freely in the manner they chose was a testament to their own sacrifices— and to those they lost. But as a child of this generation, I can only imagine. My dad (nor any of my uncles) has never chosen to speak of it or share their feelings. And that’s okay.
For us, their children, we are left to figure out for ourselves what Memorial Day means. I’ve opted for a more traditional route; I want my children to know, at least as well as they can, the sacrifices their family and grandfathers made. My own generation has largely escaped the societal-defining wars of our forefathers, and I wonder sometimes at our ability to take things for granted. We’ve reaped so much benefit from those who gave us this life, and at the very least, I hope and pray to foster appreciation and gratitude in my children.
It’s not always easy to do that, and sometimes it feels like I’m talking to the air. It’s my hope that in taking them to Arlington, to the World War II Memorial to see the thousands of bronze stars, can in some small way convey what it means to sacrifice and appreciate and serve others.