Memorial Day, also known as Decoration Day, commemorates those who have been killed while serving in the US Armed Forces. According to Wikipedia, the holiday originated after the American Civil War to honor fallen Union soldiers, but has expanded over the years to honor all Americans who have died in all wars.
Memorial Day also is the unofficial start of summer. Sure, the actual solstice doesn't arrive until mid-June, but the last Monday in May is, for many of us, the beginning of many hours spent outdoors.
As a kid, I wasn't terribly fond of Memorial Day. I knew that we'd head out in the morning to attend the field mass at one of our many family cemeteries. We never got there early enough to snag any of the folding chairs set up for participants, so we always wound up standing behind them. We generally never got there early enough to find a place in the shade, either. That meant that for the next hour or so (with so many people going up for Communion, this was a *lonnnng* mass) my little brother and I would fidget in the hot sun, wishing we were anywhere else. We were young, maybe seven and four years old when we started going to this event. Paul and I thought that the concrete footings on headstones made great seats for our little backsides, but our parents made us stand and told us that sitting on gravestones was disrespectful.
And then there were the years it rained. Even with umbrellas clasped tight to protect us, the mass wasn't any more enjoyable. We could barely hear the priest over the sound of water sluicing overhead. Our feet sunk into the rapidly muddying ground and my brother and I tried to come up with silent methods of communication to ease our boredom.
These days, I appreciate Memorial Day more than I ever could have as a kid. I understand the sacrifices now, I'm touched by the stories of uncles who didn't come home, and by the profound silence about their experiences by those who did.
To celebrate, we recount stories about family members now gone, those who served in the armed forces and those who suffered at home during war time. We also remember the fun times, the hilarious times, and even some of the more quiet, poignant moments we shared with all the family members who have gone before us. Sometimes we do this over a barbecue lunch, sometimes while watching old family movies, and sometimes while goofing off in the pool.
We do our best to keep their memories alive, and that's my favorite way to celebrate Memorial Day.