Memorial Day

I wonder if Memorial Day is a holiday that grows in meaning as one ages. Certainly we have more memories than was the case when we were younger. We have experienced more loss, have attended more funerals, have known more people who have died. Part of my story is that I started playing taps at funerals when I was in my early teenage years. Many of those military funerals were for people that I did not know well. The first funeral I played was for a veteran of World War I. I knew that man, but he had been old all of my life and his death seemed like a natural part of our community. But I also played for the funerals of victims of the War in Vietnam who were much closer to my age. Yesterday I saw a photo on Facebook of a man who was active in the local American Legion squad when I was a teenager. I think that he served in the US Navy around the time of the Korean War. I know he is too young to be a veteran of World War II, but I am uncertain of exactly when he served. He has got to be close to 90 these days. I remember all of the small town Memorial Day parades that he helped to organize. I know that he called me several times to play my trumpet at ceremonies held around our town.

Monday holidays have always received a bit less recognition in our lifestyle simply because we have observed Monday as our day off each week for most of our active careers. Since we normally do not work at the office on Mondays, a Monday holiday is always a bit less dramatic for us. All the same, we do like to observe the various holidays. Yesterday we had a barbecue for our son’s family in recognition of the holiday. Barbecues for Memorial Day are pretty common. It is often seen as the beginning of the summer holiday season and outdoor eating is a summer tradition in the North. We had watermelon and the kids had a good time eating the sweet fruit and setting seeds in the back yard.

I do have a casual observation about the holiday. It was the second holiday weekend in a row for our little community. All of the tourist shops were open all weekend as they had been the weekend before. The first weekend was a holiday in Canada, with our neighbors to the north streaming across the border to enjoy the beaches, taste samples from the ice cream and candy store on the corner, eat in the restaurants and hang out at the local microbrewery. There were kites in the air and parking was a bit of a challenge in some places along the beach. Things looked very similar this past weekend, with citizens in the US enjoying our holiday. There were two noticeable differences between the two weekends. The first had to do with the license plates on the tourist cars. We see a lot of cars from British Columbia around here, but they were definitely the majority in Birch Bay a week ago. Not so much this past weekend, when Washington and Oregon plates were most common on our streets. The second difference is a bit of an embarrassment, frankly. When we walked on the beach yesterday, it was noticeably more littered with discarded beer cans, bottle caps, juice boxes and fast food restaurant packages. My observation is not a scientific study and one has to be careful drawing conclusions from such a selective sample, but it certainly felt to me like the Canadians had been more diligent in picking up after themselves.

I really don’t understand litter. It is so easy to make picking up after oneself a habit. I’m sure that there have been times when I left some litter by being careless, but I certainly had it drilled in me to not leave litter behind and to pick up after others. “Always leave a place cleaner than you found it!” was a bit of a mantra in our family when hiking, camping, and picnicking.

I hope that your Memorial Day weekend was filled with meaning and that the pain of the journeys of grief was not your dominant emotion. I find that having permission to remember includes permission to talk about all of the good memories. I certainly have a lot of fun stories of time spent with veterans. Whenever I play taps I remember a young man who was a camper at our Music, Arts, Dance and Drama camps in South Dakota. He was a talented actor and singer and he played the baritone horn. He was a creative and sometimes challenging camper to chaperone prone to staying up a bit too late and bending the camp’s lights out rules. I always took on the chore of checking all of the camp to make sure that campers were where they needed to be before I headed to bed and I lost a bit of sleep over his antics from time to time. One thing that worked for me as a camp director was to enlist him to play taps with me each evening. I would arrange to meet him on the porch of his cabin at lights out. I’d bring my trumpet and he’d bring his horn and we’d play together so the tune could be heard throughout the camp. That meant that I knew exactly where he was when it was time for all of the campers to be in their cabins. After we played he knew he had to head into the cabin. I have this fun memory of playing with him as he stood on the porch of his cabin with his horn to his mouth. He was dressed in a t-shirt and boxer shorts. After he grew up and became too old for camp, he served in Iraq. He came home from the war without physical injuries, but died by suicide not long after his return. His suicide shook me. For a while it was very hard for me to play taps.

Years have passed and I still play taps. I participate in Taps Across America on Veterans Day and I try to always say yes when someone requests that I play for a funeral or community event. I’m scheduled to play next weekend for an event at the church. And each time I play I remember my young friend. The sting and pain is less these days. The memory is familiar and comfortable. I pray that I never forget him. His life made a difference to me.

May your memories bring you joy and gratitude.

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