I've published this post before, and today I present it to you again because this is more than Memorial Day to me.
Infinities of love,
Memorial Day has come to mean back yard barbecues, picnics in the park, the opening of public pools, a day off from school.
But Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, was actually created in 1868 as a day to decorate the graves of Civil War dead. Decoration Day evolved into Memorial Day, a time to honor armed services personnel killed in wartime.
Memorial Day has come to mean something even more to me. My dad died on Memorial Day 20 years ago. (Note: It's now been twenty-six years.)
My parents had just enjoyed a holiday cookout of their own. Daddy (he was always Daddy, never Dad or, heaven forbid, Father) got up from his chair at the kitchen table and that was the end. He fell. He was gone.
One of my sisters said, "He would have loved that--dying on Memorial Day." She meant that he was a man who loved his country and who honored those who had given their lives for it.
He was also willing to serve his country. He mentioned to me--only once--that he had a deferment as a farm boy, but he enlisted during World War II anyway.
Because he had a degree in education, he spent the war as a flight instructor and never left the U.S. When it was over, he climbed out of his Army Air Corps cockpit, whole and happy, and went home to his wife and their baby boy, my only brother.
Then he spent the rest of his life being a plain ordinary guy. I didn't realize for a long time what a hero he was.
Every morning, he kissed my mom goodbye and went to work. He came back home every night. He didn't go to a bar or a sporting event. He spent his evenings and weekends teaching us to ride our bicycles, making popcorn for our snacks, and pitching in our baseball games.
If he left us in the evening, it was to take our mom out to dinner because he knew she worked hard taking care of a house and six kids.
When we were older, he helped us buy our first cars, and he watched us go out on our first dates. He got up at four in the morning on many Saturdays to take me to school, where I would climb on a bus headed to a debate tournament. If I came home with a medal, he didn't say anything. He'd just smile.
For a man who had been a debater himself at the University of Minnesota (where he also played basketball--I have his Golden Gopher framed with his photo), he never said much. One of my sisters concluded he had given up on talking because he lived in a house full of women--I have four sisters-- and he had lost all hope of controlling us.
In control or not, he and his wife of 50 years--who passed away 15 years ago (now twenty-one years), a hero herself--managed to raise the six of us. My brother, who died not long after my mom did, had a master's degree and taught at a college. My oldest sister owns and operates a large company, where another sister works. Two other sisters have excellent jobs. And then there's me, the writer. He called me "little one" because I was the runt of the litter.
My point is that we're all employed (though I'm on and off), we're all responsible parents (we gave our folks 11 grandchildren), we stay in touch with each other, and we don't argue. We definitely laugh a lot when we're together. Our parents must have done something right.
I do have some regrets, though. My greatest regret is that I didn't call my dad on that Memorial Day 20 years ago and tell him what a hero he was.
I don't know why I didn't call. I wanted to, but for some reason, I kept talking myself out of it. I decided to call in a few days.
I even picked up the phone at one point and put it back down without dialing the number and so I missed my opportunity to hear his voice one last time and to tell him what he meant to me.
My heart was trying to tell me something, but my mind wouldn't listen.
Whether it's Memorial Day or Veterans Day or a Tuesday or a Friday, I hope you'll take some time out from whatever you're enjoying and honor your heroes. First, think of those who were killed in the armed services. Then, think of a hero in your life who's still living and let that person know how you feel.
Honor your hero while you have the chance. I wish I had. Memorial Day is now a special reminder for me of the guy who was my hero.