Janet Sheridan: Memorial Day remembrances
May 26, 2011
As we noisily celebrate graduations and kick-off the rowdy rituals of summer, Memorial Day calmly awaits our attention.
This gentle holiday offers only quiet pleasures — no prettily wrapped presents, no festive parties, no treats of chocolate and caramel.
Instead, this springtime day of commemoration brings solemn reflections, fond memories, and feelings of gratitude.
My childhood summers started softly as I helped Mom pick lilacs, iris, and buttercups, which we arranged in chipped fruit jars to leave at the gravesites of our loved ones on Memorial Day.
At the Spanish Fork cemetery, I walked with my family on new grass beneath fresh trees. We zigzagged through headstones ranging from simple to ornate and placed bouquets on the graves of the ancestors who gave us Mom.
Cleaned up for the occasion and on my best behavior, I helped clear away winter's debris and listened as my elders told fond stories about our dead.
I took extra care cleaning the small headstone of Baby Bray, my little sister who died before Mom and Dad could name her Susan.
I smiled as I read Grandpa Hall's name on a new, dark gray headstone; all my memories of Grandpa included laughter.
But I felt unsettled, holding Grandma's hand, and seeing her name etched next to his. I didn't want to think about what that meant, even after Carolyn told me to quit being a baby.
I was proud when we decorated Grandpa Bray's burial site in the Provo cemetery. He had been a stranger to me and an uninvolved father to my dad, but his grave had a small flag beside it, when most didn't.
I don't remember my age when I learned the reason for Memorial Day and the meaning of Grandpa's flag, but I remember walking with Bob and my dad back to our car after leaving a jar of lilacs on Grandpa's grave.
Some men as old as my great uncles, in uniforms and strange hats, offered us small red poppies of crepe paper on a wire stem.
Dad bought some and gave one to each of us.
I examined mine: "Hey, Dad, we didn't get much for our money, did we."
Dad stopped walking and told us Memorial Day began as a way to honor the brave soldiers who died fighting for our country. He said the flowers, like the flags placed in the cemetery by the Boy Scouts, helped us remember our soldiers, and we should wear them proudly.
They represented something of great value — our freedom.
When Bob objected that Grandpa didn't die fighting — he died coughing and coughing in the hospital — Dad explained that Grandpa fought in World War I and even those who didn't die in the war were remembered with a flag.
Years later, when I stood at my dad's gravesite and watched the solemnity of his military burial, I thought of his words and the value of flags and poppies.
My Uncle Norley was in the Merchant Marine during World War II.
He expressed unhappiness in 1971 when Congress adjusted the date of Memorial Day to create a three-day weekend: "It'll be just another long weekend for sales shopping and camping trips, eating too much and watching the Indy 500. It's a shame."
I wondered if my uncle was thinking of his dead friends whose faces he committed to memory as he floated on his back in the Pacific, waiting for rescue after the sinking of his ship.
I welcome the flags that line Victory Way on May 31, a stirring and grand reminder that we should take a moment to give thanks to those who served and to the families who hugged them goodbye.
I appreciate the Rotary Club for providing this reminder.
I'm also happy that as a child I stood sturdy in a quiet cemetery under the lenient sun of May and understood my place in a long line of mostly good people.
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