When I was a kid, we were living in Leavenworth, Kansas, and every year on Memorial Day we'd go down to the cemetery and lay flowers on the grave of a fallen soldier. I went to David J. Brewer Elementary School, and we'd put flowers on his grave, too. I don't know why, he was a judge, not a soldier. But I digress.
It was a somber day. It was a day when we remembered what other people gave up for us. It was a day when I'd actually feel guilty about not saying the Pledge of Allegiance with everybody else.
But somewhere in there, somewhere in one of those moves, or one of those homes where I stayed, Memorial Day became Cookout Day, or Camping Weekend, or Let's Clean This Fucking House Fiesta. It wasn't about soldiers any more. It wasn't about Grandpa being at Pearl Harbor or our ancestors who died at Andersonville. And that always kind of depressed me. For a few years there, I'd go trek downtown where I could always find some memorial or another, and I could stand around looking sad and respectful and then go on about my day. It all seemed to stem from not living with my mom. My mom had made sure we went out pay our respects.
My mom was in town this weekend. We spent Memorial Day playing Scrabble (six games, I beat her by 241 points, cumulatively, and she's the one with a Master's in journalism), then we went to my friend's new home for a cook out. On Friday, we took a cab from the Shedd Aquarium to her hotel, and we passed Grant Park, where over 3,000 pairs of combat boots were on display - one for each fallen soldier in Iraq.
I thought it was an incredibly powerful image, as I'm sure everyone did. I wanted to leap out of the cab and go look, but my mom was against it. I sat back in the cab, shoulders slumped against the naugahyde seat, looking sideways at the person who so carefully explained the importance of Memorial Day to the five-year-old me who bought every word of it.
I can't put my finger on exactly what I felt when she basically brushed off the exhibit, but I think disappointment comes pretty close. Not disappointment in not being able to go take pictures that would look good on my twango account, but disappointment in the one person in the world who had unwaivering faith in me.
Maybe it's because she's Republican, and she voted for Bush twice, and she didn't want to get out and be reminded what her party and her votes stood for. Maybe she was just tired, or she was having a good day and didn't want to be brought down with reminders of people who don't have it as easy as we. Maybe it's any number of things.
But next year, I'm getting back on the Rembering Our Troops Memorial Day train, weeping over Memorial Day speeches, getting rowdy about war vetrans. Fuck the sales, and the cookouts, and the camping and all that shit - we wouldn't have any of it without the contributions of thousands of soldiers, dating from the Revolutionary War.
And yeah, it's sort of bandwagoning, just going out to participate in Memorial Day for the sake of participating, just to feel like I've done something worthwhile. But damn, doing something for the sake of feeling worthwhile one day a year is a shitload better than using that one day a year to get piss drunk and hit on your cousin's date at a cookout.