When I was a kid, if we did anything for Memorial Day, we went to Mom’s home town and visited the cemetery where many on her side were laid to rest. In other words, we honored Memorial Day. When every American holiday’s primary activity is eating and shopping, Memorial Day barbecues and mall sales don’t stand out as the day to honor those we miss. So call me un-American, but Memorial Day for me is a time to remember and honor loved ones who have passed, soldiers and war. There’s no “happy” in my Memorial Day greeting except the happiness in my heart for those who enriched my life and whom I greatly miss. But this post is far from maudlin. I want to share the joyful spirit of a few of my dearest who live on within my memory, which is why I refer to them in the present tense.
First, there is Tony. A day with Tony is like taking a week’s vacation on a spaceship with a Broadway cast. Tony is never afraid to be outrageous, which makes me feel free to be myself. After his brain surgery in which a small metal plate was inserted near his temple, he frightened people at the mall with his tall, thin frame, fresh Frankenstein stitches and impromptu bursts of physical and verbal comedy that made me a horrible straight man because I’d be laughing, making me appear terribly insensitive to his audience! And scene.
Joe. Joe is my sweet, tender friend with incredible intellect, artistic creativity and wit. Joe is like family, accepting and always there with support. He’s gay and I’m straight yet we make a perfect couple – if he needs a beard! Being around Joe is effortless, yet creatively stimulating. Time with Joe helps me find my truer self. So Joe, what’s my next challenge?
Dennis is my first love but I don’t know if he knew or cared. I was far too shy a teen to reveal those feelings but it’s safe now. We did manage to go to prom together my sophomore and senior years. After having our picture taken at senior prom, we decided to go to another venue for a while but while leaving, a faculty member stopped us asking. “Are you leaving, already?” “No, we’ll be back,” Dennis replied to which we were informed, “If you leave, you can’t come back,” so Dennis replied, “Oh, then we’re leaving.” My rebel. I hate you. I love you. I miss you.
Grammy, my mom’s mom, is the only grandparent I got to meet and I was small when she passed. Grammy has a superior command for vocabulary and making anything grow. She makes the story of her dad’s business partner going down on the Titanic come to life. That’s quite a legacy. I wonder if she ever wonders about taking that advance to be a contributing writer for a magazine instead of marrying, having twelve kids and becoming a widow with small children. If she did, she never expressed it, even in her writing, which few but family ever sees. And when it comes to handling the shared strife of losing three children (for her, three in their childhood), she’s my Rose Kennedy. Grounded.
I don’t know how I’ve survived 13 and a half years since I last gazed into those robin’s egg blue eyes or had a phone chat with Ann, my mom, but it must be because I got some of her resilience, like she got her mom’s. She is my best friend. No other shoulder will do when I need one. And if you’re annoyed or amused by my ceaseless recall of lines from movies, TV or any conversation we’ve ever had, blame or thank her. Ann is my sidekick to this day, appreciating our mutual, uncanny ear for lines and language. Never loud. Never angry. Never unkind. Impeccable. And joyful to her core. Precious.
My heartache for Urbin, my dad, is four years long. Urb is last because he followed Mom and because he is a military veteran, which he’s not happy I mentioned. The army wanted his I.Q. of 169 for espionage or some subversiveness but Dad wanted nothing to do with it. He fought his way back from sergeant to private because he hated war and the foolishness of those who exercised their own egos in that field. He’s my hero. Dad doesn’t just call it the way he sees it, he calls it how it really is. He teaches me to recognize and reject associations with bullshit. Superior wit. As brave as he is kind.
This Memorial Day I honor those I love and who live in my heart and memory. This day is meant to remember those we miss and to remind us that we are better because of them. Because I am on this side of what must be but a thin veil, I will not squander this life and will strive to practice the lessons these lovely people have given me. I will continue to dismiss trifling folks, doing busy work for pay or keeping quiet when I face injustice. Every day will lead me closer to my truth with the guidance of these I cherish and the many teachers, friends, family and role models who have left their mark.