Here in the United States, people are just finishing up the Memorial Day weekend. Three days off (for those of us who believe in days off) and all the charred hot dogs and beer your distended stomach can hold. If you believe the department store ads, it’s a weekend of wholesome family fun, grilling, and patriotism. And to tell the truth, you can get Stars and Stripes on damn near anything. Don’t you want to salute your toilet paper?
On a more traditional note–for those of us who believe in traditions–it’s a holiday to remember soldiers, and the ladies auxiliary, or the DAR, or the whoever, goes out and puts teeny tiny flags on all the soldiers’ graves.
This is an event among the older set. And everybody else goes out and decorates graves in general, just in case some of the dead civilians feel left out.
In one of my more horrifying childhood memories, there are roughly a million billion cemeteries in and around my home town, and I have family buried in every single one of them. I’m fairly sure I was born so American Grandmother would have someone to keep pots of peonies from tipping over.
American Grandmother grew peonies en masse for this purpose, by the way. (Because the other choice is plastic.)
Traditions are strange. This one “started” arguably after the Civil War. Or, at least, that’s the story I’ve always heard. Women in some little border town going out to decorate, and decorating the graves of soldiers who died on both sides. Interesting thought. Then, again, those women probably had relatives on both sides.
The environmentalist in me sees thousands of pounds of disposable plastic flowers headed for the landfill. You know… an American landfill, somewhere in the country that soldier loved.
The miser in me sees a fortune–does that say 29 or 39.99 going for that one arrangement–headed to the cemeteries, and then down the–**ahem** door. And I think about that. One of the “old soldiers” in my family bought a round of drinks for every(man) in town, once. He’s remembered for that. And even so, I can just hear the sound of his purse snapping shut. Go do something useful with your money, and get off my table! (Yup. Same guy.)
And the idealist in me… (I must’ve eaten one, once.) The idealist would like to point out that that actually using your freedoms wouldn’t be a bad way of honoring soldiers, either. You have freedom of speech, so go write something. Freedom of the press? Go read something. Go read something to your kid. Freedom of assembly? Go assemble. Take a picket sign, if you want, or a case of beer. I’m not picky.
And as for remembering soldiers… remember them in three dimensions, as individuals, as complex and unique people. As people with stories, and interests, and families. People who went fishing, and learned to love Switzerland because it was so clean, and who used to skip out on hoeing their family’s garden, because they couldn’t possibly finish the whole thing, and they knew they’d be in trouble, anyway. People who took a second honeymoon by train–by train–and wound up being chivareed in their seventies. Because that’s what their sacrifice is.