All holidays are evocative of the past – it sort of goes with the territory – but each has it’s own set of memories, and memories are what Memorial Day is all about, beginning with it’s very name. Of course it was originally called Decoration Day, but that’s kind of beside the point. It was meant to honor service casualties but now is considered a day to honor all who have passed on.
So that’s the basics, but Memorial Day has also gained a whole host of other meanings, including the onset of Summer and lots of family picnics. When I was a kid, it was often the occasion for a ‘reunion’, a huge family gathering in the park that offered the chance to catch up with uncles, aunts, and cousins that we seldom saw — and enjoy lots of good food, too. I can still remember everyone lugging baskets and boxes loaded with everything you could imagine. The women would then take over, shooing away the men, who’d gather to one side to jaw at one another and occasionally spit. The kids would run wild, as kids are wont to do.
As my generation grew to adulthood and started our own families, often moving away from the area, the big reunion inevitably became a memory. But most of us still thought of Memorial Day as an opportunity to cook out and enjoy nature while surrounded by our immediate family.
When my kids were young we moved to a new – well, newer – house, one that had been remodeled by the previous owner. One of the features we liked was that it had a covered patio. It was enclosed on three sides by the house, garage and breezeway, and the fourth was basically a wall of shrubs and overgrowth between our yard and the neighbor’s. We moved in during the Summer, and I wasted no time getting things set up. Lawn furniture, a nice charcoal kettle grill, and – my pride and joy – a picnic table.
Unfortunately we soon found a fly in the ointment — and I’m not talking about the clouds of pesky bugs that swarmed around us. It seems that the covered patio was so enclosed on all sides that on a hot, sunny day it was almost like a greenhouse. I was frustrated but we did enjoy it as the weather moderated in late Summer and early Autumn, and I began looking toward next Spring, thinking how nice it would be to have our own Memorial Day picnic. But Mother Nature had a different plan.
It was a bad Winter, with lots of heavy snow and ice, and during one period there were varying temperatures that caused snow to melt and refreeze. It built up layer after layer, and – you might guess what I’m about to say – the entire patio roof suddenly came crashing down. I have no idea how heavy it was but it completely flattened the picnic table, furniture, and grill. They looked like something that had been crushed by one of those hydraulic presses in an auto junkyard.
So Memorial Day that year didn’t go as planned and I honestly don’t remember how we spent it, but I’ll always remember what was lost.