When I was a kid, Memorial Day smelled like geraniums (my Dad’s choice of flowers for planting at the cemetery), tasted like Stockbridge Area Fire Department BBQ chicken, and felt like freedom, which to me as a child, meant no jacket and bare feet. The three day weekend always included a parade. Growing up in a small town, you were just as likely to be in the parade as to watch the parade from the curb. I rode my bike, decked out in red, white, and blue; all my siblings and I marched as scouts; and my brother and I marched with the high school marching band.
Although Memorial Day unofficially marks the beginning of summer, here in Michigan the weather is incredibly unpredictable. I can recall feeling like I was going to melt from the heat in my marching band uniform one year, and being so cold that I could barely move my fingers to play my flute, the next year. (Belated apologies to my fellow flautists who had to pick up the slack ‘cause I was faking it.)
As a parade participant, I remember the excitement of gathering at the school and lining up with the rest of my group. As a spectator, I would stand on the corner at the end of our street, straining to hear the faint beat of the drums. As the band drew closer, I could feel the boom of the base drum deep in my chest.
The parade route varied somewhat over the years. Sometimes the memorial service was held on the town square near the Stockbridge Civil War Memorial, sometimes it was held in Oaklawn Cemetery. Afterwards, there would be ice cream for all parade participants either in the form of push-ups or those little cups of ice cream we ate with tiny wooden paddles. If we were toward the front of the procession, we might be able to score a drumstick.
Memorial Day originally honored military personnel who died in the Civil War (1861-1865). It now honors those who died in any war while serving the United States. I’ve read that it is not appropriate to wish someone a happy Memorial Day, just as it is not appropriate to celebrate a loved one’s funeral. I also read that you should not thank current troops on Memorial Day. I have to respectfully disagree and say that I think it is okay to thank a veteran for his service to our country any damn day of the year.
With most parades and many activities cancelled due to the pandemic, Memorial Day will certainly be different this year. It will also be the same. The most important parts of Memorial Day have not been cancelled. Be thankful for our country. Honor those that have served our country. And pray for the unity and future of our country. All these activities are still open for your participation.