Monday, May 27, 2013

The Memory of the Living

When I was a small child, Memorial Day meant going to various small cemeteries around southeastern Minnesota and along the Mississippi River. There were geraniums to be planted, hosta and petunias. Sometimes marigolds or impatiens, depending on the whether the grave to be decorated was sunny or shady. My mother usually did all the choosing and planting, my paternal grandmother acted as tour guide, reminding us whom was at each of the cemeteries and where their markers were. I was usually the water girl, taking the oversized aluminum watering can (sloshing as much water as I delivered) back and forth from the faucet to the plot. A trip to Dairy Queen was my incentive to be a good helper.

As I grew up, Memorial Day morphed into a day spent in small parades, once again in southeastern Minnesota. My high school band never turned down an invitation to march in summer parades--most often fully decked out in dark purple woolen band uniforms--something that I'm very proud of to this day. Our band director, the indefatigable Gene Eiden--who still pays tribute to veterans in his role as Honor Guard Commander for American Legion Post 92 in Rochester, Minnesota--knew we needed the practice, and he instilled in us the importance of taking part, giving back, and paying tribute.

After September 11, days like Memorial Day and Veterans Day took on a different significance for me. Days when we not only pay tribute to those who have sacrificed so much for us, but when we remember their stories, their paths. We recall and are grateful to the people who run toward danger to save our lives. 

And most recently, I've been working slowly but surely on a WWI soldier's letters. Letters home to the boy's mother and sister (and one lone missive to his father, too) from various parts of France and an Army hospital in New York. As I delve more deeply into not only his story, but that of his unit and his comrades, I can't help but think what a miracle it is that he made home--that any of them made it home. He is remembered today not only by his daughter--who is of a ripe old vintage herself, these days--but by those who will read of his experiences. His story will be told, he will be remembered. 

So today I went looking through my postcard collection for a WWI return reception card--one of the favorites of my little assemblage. It's pictured below, and even though there are redacted lines, it still bears the handwritten name of the town of LeSueur. The image of the lone biplane above the Statue of Liberty as she watches over a moonlit harbor--a large ship receding into the distant horizon--is beautiful, but sobering. This soldier came home to his family when so many others did not. 
Well Done Men, America Greets YOU.

Soldiers Mail

A bit further back in my postcard album are a number of cards that were sent to my grandmother's sister, Mayme, in 1907-1908 when she was quite ill. Most have flowers or kittens on them and have some kind of "get well soon" message as well. In the midst of those, however, was this one. Mailed from Nelson, Wisconsin, to Mayme in Wabasha, Minnesota, in June of 1908. The writer apologizes to Mayme that this was the only postal they had.

"As a veteran in old age
He was loyal to the red, white and blue,
Which placed his name on the page
Of heroes the recording angel drew."

And finally, this old classic. A beautiful linen postcard--one that I couldn't recall purchasing. Removing it from the sleeve, I realized it was a note from an old friend, one now deceased. Someone I haven't thought of in a while, so it's appropriate to find it today. She wished me a nice 4th of July, said she was sending me her schedule for working at Mayowood, and commented on a quote I must have given the local paper about Kirby Puckett. She said to put the clipping in my "save" pile. I don't have the clipping from the paper, but I do have this most pleasant reminder of a much loved and much missed friend.

Happy Memorial Day, then. Parades will soon be over, flags will be carefully brought in from porches and picnics and BBQs will be getting into full swing. As the sun sets, though, it's a good time to remember and say thank you. Remember the stories of servicemen and women, their sacrifices and their families. Remember friends loved and lost, remember the people who keep us from harm's way. The simple act of memory--sharing a story, raising a glass--is an act kindness and an act of love. 

The life of the dead is placed in the memories of the living. -- Marcus Tullius Cicero

1 comment:

Frances J. Karon said...

Touching post, MLA -- for Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and every day.