I woke up this morning thinking about Memorial Day as a kid. It was the official end of the school year and the official beginning of summer. It was always hot, the town pool was open, people were off work, everything was closed and it was a day of patriotism and remembrance along with celebration and family.
Lawns were mowed on Saturday and cars were washed. Garages were cleaned out and barbecue grills were spiffed up and made ready for a big day of grilling. Flags were flown on every house and driveways, front yards and porches were full of people talking, laughing and remembering those who had fought so that their Memorial Days could be so picturesque.
For me, moving to and growing up in this small town was life changing. The wannabe writer in me even back then, knew the importance of the sensory experience of these moments and that many would either not be repeated or would some day fade away into an ever changing world. Even all these years later, I have held on to many of those images and the smells, the feel and wondering even at such a young age if one day my kids would experience this or if it would merely be unfathomable stories to their young minds.
So I have started walking again and today, after lying in bed thinking about the past, I decided to walk my 4 mile trek around town and see what my small town was doing in 2016 on Memorial Day. I vowed as I walked out the door to take pictures and to walk more slowly than usual as I wanted once again, the sensory experience that I seldom had time for anymore. I wanted to see this day....like a kid again.
It is a warm, humid morning full of sunshine. My usual bustling little town is quiet. Traffic on the main drag is nil and in places it is so still I can hear my own heart beat. I try to remember how the sun felt as a child and how excited I would have been that summer was finally here, but my adult brain was taking me to the thoughts of how free I was. How amazing it was that I could walk no particular place in no particular time and how much I was enjoying it. I was trying to imagine what life would be like without the freedom to come and go as I please and I could feel a knot starting to form in my stomach at even the thought of such a thing. Yes....Memorial Day....a time to remember those who fought and died, so that I might have a peaceful walk without limitations.
I walked passed the city building with its flag waving majestically over head. Our flag. The flag that has been abused, stepped on, burned and yet still it stands. Amazing. And I walked on. As I walked through the main street of town flags adorned the center posts. There was not a soul other than myself as I headed down the street and yet I was not alone. With me stood all those that had built this town, worked in this town and yes....died for this town. It was such a feeling of belonging and also a feeling of loss.
As I headed west and then back south, the smell of charcoal and smoke was already permeating the air. Many cars lined the streets as family and friends started to gather for celebrations and barbecues. Kids could be seen riding bikes and playing in yards. The whir of lawn mowers could be heard here and there as lawns were finally dry enough from all the rain....to mow. Garage doors were open and people were sitting in lawn chairs with music drifting on the air. As is small town etiquette, they would smile and wave as I went by, none I am sure realizing, that I was searing their image, the sound and the smell into my brain. None knew that one question kept popping into my head. What if these days, these celebrations, these moments of freedom.....are numbered? I had to remember them. I had to remember this walk.
On the south side of town, I heard the occasional rooster crow and neighborhood dogs would stand at their fences and bark "hello" as I walked by. Even in the humidity, the tree lined streets gave off shade and ever so often a slight breeze could be felt. It was surreal beauty at its finest.
I looked at the houses as I walked by. Some were homes of friends that I had gone to school with or had grown up with. Some houses had seen better days and some had been given new life. There were beautifully manicured lawns and lawns that needed a green thumb and much love. Regardless, they were a part of the scenery of my life and each felt special as if I would miss it terribly if I walked by and it weren't there.
I walked past the park that used to hold the city pool. I spent so many summers in that pool with my friends. I stood quietly for a moment and I could almost hear the laughter, the splashing, the life guards whistle and the sound of the radio coming from the concession stand. I felt real loss at that moment for even though we now have a new pool on the edge of town, my kids will never know this pool and just how integral to our summers it was for generations of kids.
The more I walked, the more I realized how intertwined my soul and my heart were with this town. I understood fully how I was a small town girl and how grateful I was that my youthful dreams of being a writer in New York City had never panned out. My heart would not have lasted a week in a place where I couldn't hear my own thoughts or have listened to the trains as they passed through town or walked tree lined streets where everyone waved whether they knew you or not. No....this is home. This is where I belong.
As my walk was soon to end, a sadness creeped over me. As much as I loved this place, there was something missing and I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I continued walking down my street, trying to figure out what was bothering me. As I looked at my neighbors house, it hit me. I knew what the sadness was and it was quite profound. In front of me stood my neighbors house and proudly from the front porch, gently waved the flag. It was solitary and singular and it represented all that this day stood for. It was at this moment I realized that yes.....the town had flags, but of all the houses I walked by.....only a handful had a flag flying. I immediately jumped back to those days of childhood where every home had a flag and where it was flown every Memorial Day without fail. Maybe we truly were coming to a time in our world, our country.....my town, where freedom was a dying right, being replaced by ignorance, apathy and a huge disregard for what this country was founded on and who fought to keep it free. I almost cried.
My walk was over and my emotions were raw. The sensory tour had been a little more than I had been prepared for. I had one more yearly event that I needed to do and although I wasn't sure I was up for it, it had to be done. I got in the car, flowers and flags in hand and headed for the cemetery. I drove out south of town thinking that I was pretty emotional and I hate to cry. I had to see my mom though and my husband and all those whose lives were a part of me and a part of my town.
As I drove into the cemetery, my heart jumped. Before me stood a row of big beautiful flags that lined the entire center of the cemetery. There were cars everywhere as people came out to pay their respects and honor those who had gone before them. The graves were adorned with flowers and flags and there was a sea of red, white and blue for as far as the eye could see. My town had not forgotten the meaning of Memorial Day. They had not lost their pride of country or freedom. It was here....where it should be. Remembering the men and women who fought and died so that we all might be free.
Tears ran down my face as I took in everything. It was amazing and I knew I would never as long as I lived forget that moment. Yes....this is my town!
Happy Memorial Day!