I once was in scrapbook journal swap that had the topic "My Favorite Holiday". Most people chose Christmas or Thanksgiving but I chose Memorial Day. I have happy memories of this holiday from when I was a child. When I was in elementary and then junior high school I was a girl scout. Every Memorial Day we would march in our village parade. That was pretty cool! What I enjoyed even more were the visits we made to the cemeteries in Brooklyn and Queens.
On my dad's side of the family his father served in the WWI. My dad served in WWII in the Navy. The story goes that he went to my grandmother and said "You might as well sign to give your permission for me to enlist because I'm just going forge it if you don't" My grandmother signed her permission. My dad was a tall lanky kid and was several months shy of the legal limit when he enlisted. My dad was also the man of the house as his father (my grandfather died when my dad was 12 or 13). My grandmother was a fairly independent woman for her time. For years she worked in the central Post Office in Manhattan to support herself and my dad. A working woman way before it was in vogue.
She belonged to the VFW Auxiliary and was very patriotic. Every Memorial Day weekend my dad would drive out to Freeport to pick her up and then drive into the Lutheran cemetery in the city. I loved to go along! We would drive into Queens and stop at one of the many florist shops outside the cemeteries and pick up a few arrangements or wreaths and then go in and place them. (From what I can remember the Catholic, Jewish and Lutheran cemeteries were all butted up to each other and covered a huge area.) My dad always brought his clippers, a few yard tools some cleaning stuff to straighten up the grave sites. We also made sure we brought small American flags.
I loved going to the cemetery I would roam around while my dad tended the grave site. This cemetery didn't look like today's cemeteries with their flat grave markers and flat land with very few trees. These cemeteries were built on rolling hills with parkways (highways) bisecting them with twisty narrow roads in and out. Family plots were often marked with two foot high wrought iron fences and gates. There were elaborate headstones and mausoleums. Everything was very crowded together. We'd pay our respects, place our flags and wreathes and leave.
We'd always see a veteran outside the cemetery or on a street corner in the area selling crepe paper poppies for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). In my house it was next to a sin not to buy a poppy or two or three, which we did every year. My grandmother would play "God Bless America" on the piano or the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and sing - my grandmother could not sing...I was taught to respect the flag and my country and the soldiers who had fought and died for our freedoms.
On the more fun side of our trip we also managed to find a street vendor near the cemetery selling large soft pretzels - three for a quarter! What a deal! These pretzels were warm to hot with salt and incredibly soft and delicious, just the best, ahh, what memories.
For me Memorial Day isn't just about the hot dogs, hamburgers and picnics. Nor is it about the parades. It's about remembering what and who came before us. Not only the soldiers but the families that supported them and remembered them in their hearts and in their actions. The sacrifices these past generations made for us to be able to live in this glorious country today. Freedom is never free and to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom is the least we can do. Remembering them and showing the next generation that their deaths were not in vain is our duty to them today and every day.