"The peonies should be out by Memorial Day."
"Whites, starting Memorial Day, ending Labor Day."
Barbecue. Which I want to spell "barbeque." Or Bar-b-que.
Three day weekend.
I grew up through a particular commodification of culture, I think. I'm pretty sure I remember at least an equal emphasis on parades and honorings, though outdoor cooking and the unofficial start to summer were part of the equation.
But it was almost as if you had to be solemn first. It made sense, like a blessing before a meal. Let us take a moment to remember those who, whether by volunteering or by conscription, whether known to you or merely an idea, gave their life in service to their country.
And I would see all of us gathered at the parade, and off to the cemetery, all of those grown ups who would later probably vociferously argue about what justifies war and whether there should be a volunteer army and military industrial complexes and greater good and all sorts of ideas that started off as syllabic swirls and eventually became part of the swarm my own mouth formed...
...I would see all of us gathered in one location. Out of respect. Remembering perhaps with different sortings, but remembering. Quietly.
Currently, a blow out isn't even a rout at a sporting event. It's a mattress sale.
I'd like to say I'm not passing judgement. But I probably am.
I try to remember instead of whinge.
Nobody warned me about the salute. And I was just young enough to have it not occur to me, and just enough at the front edge of my adulthood to have it slay me.
When you make it through the funeral of a dearly loved one, when you are pacing your reserves like you do in the pool and are trying to swim as far underwater as possible before coming up for air, when you are doing the best you can to balance giving supportive looks and sneaking shared glances of agony without completely losing it, this calculation is very delicate. The calculation becomes even more important when you feel like if you do lose it, you don't know how you will come back.
So you sit in your seat, and stare fiercely ahead when you realize the talking is half a sentence from being over. It's nearly over. You figure you can make it to the end after all, you will follow the cues, you know will never look upon that person living or dead again, but you will somehow either precede or follow them out of this room with the rest of these people sitting so stiffly in unusually formal clothes. You get distracted for a moment at realizing just how many of them you have never seen in these kind of clothes. You realize that these people who are usually familiar but currently in unusual clothes are still sitting, there is no cue to move. Then there is a rustle in the rear, and an honor guard (you remember that term from parades in years past) enters, and you think, "oh, they will lead him/us out. How nice."
But they don't move right away. You need a cue. You desperately need a cue. You sit forward again, the air starting to swish in your ears, but figuring you'll just roll with whatever movement comes next, you can make it, you can make it, so long as you don't make any eye contact now, you can make it.
And then there is an explosion, and you leap out of your chair. Your cousin looks at you, giving you the same evaluating look as when you started to come out of the roller coaster seat heading down the big hill that year long ago and you both knew that you were on the precipice of Trouble. At that moment of eye contact, the rifles, for now you realize they are rifles, fire again, and they pierce your veneer, and you start sobbing. It is too much, this fright and this ceremony and this ending and knowing that people are already trying to remember. The third and final shot is just loudness in a swirl.
And then Taps begins, and you realize you *thought* you lost it before, and you go back years before, when you saw your first eagle and found a tin cup hanging by a stream as if by magic and turned and saw a certain smile and it all goes into some odd expansion compression as you realize that your past was well into his future at the point that earned this Taps and it makes sense that the bugler is out of tune.
You remember that you can never fully know another's life. But you deem it important to remember what you do know.
And in the case of Memorial/Decoration Day, you vow to remember what you don't know.
A NYT article exploring the backstory to Memorial Day in the United States. David W. Blight, "Forgetting Why We Remember."
Thanks to Buglers Across America, because digital taps just doesn't play.