Happy Memorial Day

Ah, Memorial Day in America. There are a few things that can be counted on every year.

  • It’s going to rain.
  • Some folks are going to cook out, drink too much, and go to parades anyway.
  • Some people are going to gripe that others aren’t showing the proper respect for the holiday.
  • Lots of people aren’t going to show the proper respect for the holiday.
  • Tomorrow, we all go back to work and school, and life will go on.

It’s a solemn day, especially as I look around at the kids graduating with my daughter next week and realize just how many of them are going into the military in the weeks after that.

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It’s a day to look at my family and think of just how many of my loved ones have served over the years.. It’s a day to look at my Uncle Don’s flag in its display case and wonder, for the thousandth time, what it would have been like to know my father’s twin brother.

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It’s a day to think about my Uncle Butch and remember his smart-ass grin. To think about his kids who barely remember him, and the grandchildren – and great-grandchildren!- who never had the chance to meet him.

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I think it’s safe to say that Uncle Butch would have been as proud of them as they are of him for his service.  They drive out here every year to honor him.

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It’s a day to look at the flag and see it as more than just a bunch of stripes and a handful of stars.

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It’s a day for memories, but it’s not a day for sadness. It’s a day when kids dodge into the streets to grab candy thrown by beauty queens perched on floats, while high school marching bands play and firetrucks creep past with their sirens wailing.

There is some silliness going on, too.

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Along with some general grumpiness.

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And overall? It’s a day for family and friends, and fun.

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Life will indeed go on tomorrow, when we go back to work and school. But maybe, just maybe, we’ll go back with a little bit of something else. Maybe a hint of patriotism? Or at the very least, a little bit of understanding, a sense of appreciation for all of the men and women we are honoring on this day.

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Happy Memorial Day, America!

Pledge

On September 11, 2001, I didn’t have to be to work until 10:00. I sent my daughter off to pre-school, let my son watch his favorite Thomas the Tank Engine video for a while before taking him to daycare, and then forgot to pop out his Ready Set Learn cassette in the car until I had almost made it to work. In other words, I didn’t hear the news until I was sitting in the left-hand turn lane on M-40.

I remember those tiny details. I remember hearing WBCT’s morning deejay Reese Rickards saying that it had been deliberate, that the planes had been full when they struck the towers.

Towers? What Towers?

I sat there, not hearing the horns honking around me, and I heard Reese say that the Pentagon had been hit. I didn’t realize I was crying until after I had finally parked.

I remember every detail of that day. I can tell you the names of each client I worked on, what size perm rods I used, how many haircuts I did, how hard I worked because I didn’t know what else to do. My boss debated turning off the radio so as not to upset the clients, but everyone was upset already. We all had to listen. And we listened all day long.

They were plenty of reasons to cry in the days after that. As a firefighter’s wife, I attended memorial services and candlelight vigils. I held my husband close when he told me he wanted to volunteer to go to New York and help with the clean-up; I thanked God when he couldn’t go because our area was sending only those with EMT certification and above. The Big Guy had his MFR (Medical First Responder), one level below EMT.

I didn’t jump on the patriotic bandwagon then. I wasn’t ready to climb on board and start waving the flag. During those first shell-shocked, horrified weeks, I didn’t cry as an American. I cried as a human being. As a wife and mother and daughter and sister and friend. My heart broke for what the victims must have felt in their last moments, and for the agony their loved ones were going through.

For me, it wasn’t about being an American.

When I saw the flags going up everywhere, I didn’t feel a swelling of pride. I wondered, “Where was your flag last week? Weren’t you proud to be an American then, too?” And I’ll admit, I felt a little bit irritated when I saw that those flags were left up after sunset, hanging day and night, twenty-four/seven.

I was once a Girl Scout, after all. The flag always comes in at dark.

Respect the Flag.

About three weeks after the attack on the Twin Towers, it was my scheduled day to volunteer in my daughter’s class. We put her things in her cubby, settled her in to her seat and sang “Good morning to you.” And then we stood and recited the Pledge of Allegiance, just like schoolchildren all over the country do every morning.

I hadn’t said those words in over thirty years, but they came right back. And for the first time in my life, I actually said them instead of just reciting them.

Did I mean it? Do I pledge my allegiance to this country with its poverty, poor healthcare system, and screwed-up political system? Can I really have any allegiance toward a country whose leaders routinely lie to us? In the midst of my losing battle with Social Security to be declared disabled while perfectly healthy people all around me are collecting Disability checks, can I really say I am proud to be an American?

Well, yeah.

We’re not perfect. I’m really afraid of what the future holds for me and my fellow countrymen.

But when you come right down to it, yes, I am patriotic. I was born American and I will die American, and in between I will probably be really ashamed of a lot of the things my country does. But that’s what patriotism means to me: accepting that this country is my home, warts and all, and loving it anyway.

I am American. It’s part of what I am, just like the fact that I am short, overweight, green-eyed. I am a slow driver, a mediocre cook, and a horrible housekeeper. I am the daughter of a meat cutter, granddaughter of a Jack-of-all-trades, great-granddaughter of a foot-washing Baptist minister. I am a Michigander, a cat-owner, and a Diet Coke drinker.

And I am an American. A cynical one, but a patriotic one in my own way.

I pledge allegiance to the flag

of the United States of America

and to the Republic for which it stands,

one nation under God, indivisible,

with Liberty and Justice for all.

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