Memorial Day means different things to different people. First and foremost, it is about the men and women who serve and have served in our armed forces. No matter what your political leanings, or feelings about the direction of our country or society in general, you really should tip your hat to the all of the courageous people who put themselves in harm’s way so that we can enjoy the freedom that allows us to eat hamburgers, shoot fireworks and blog on this and any other day we choose.
There are multiple members of my immediate family who have served in the military, including both of my grandfathers who were in the US Navy (my mom’s dad may or may not have served with Charlton Heston on Kodiak Island, but he definitely “kept ’em flying”), my maternal grandmother who was a nurse in the US Navy, my father-in-law who was in the US Army Corps of Engineers (including being stationed in Germany for a significant amount of time) and my father who was in the US Army (despite the fact that he sometimes jokes that the government made him a “trained killer”, he was not a spy or secret agent. I don’t think…) I also have numerous friends and extended family members who either have served or who are currently serving. Thank you to all of you for your brave sacrifices for the greater good.
Memorial Day has also come to mean other things as time has gone on. For some, it is the beginning of summer. For others, it means that they can finally pull out their favorite pair of white pants (although, the idea of only being able to wear white between Memorial Day and Labor Day is, like, so passe.) For about 400,000 close friends and relatives, it means the Indianapolis 500. But for me, it has always meant an extended celebration of my birthday.
The great thing about having a medium to large extended family is that there are always reasons to get together. Birthdays, graduations, baptisms, Christmas, Easter, Boxing Day, Arbor Day, the Super Bowl, Guy Fawkes Day, Bastille Day. No occurrence is too big or small to have a party for.
While that list is a bit of an exaggeration (we were more of a Flag Day family than an Arbor Day family) it really seemed like for a lot of summers, there would be a get together almost every weekend. It would actually start early in the Spring with Easter, which then ran into my brother Matt’s birthday, followed by Mother’s Day then my mom and my birthdays/Memorial Day, then Father’s Day, then 4th of July/the twin cousins’ birthday, then my little brother Brian’s birthday (which invariably was during the annual family trek to Door County). Next thing you know, school is back to starting and you have eaten your weight in hamburgers, bratwurst and pasta salad.
The Memorial Day festivities are the most memorable to me because, of course, it was mostly about me. There are very few images of specific days, but mostly an image or two that represents most of the years blurred into one. The most lasting image is that of my dad.
Susie doesn’t comment much about it anymore, but when we first were married she would invariably marvel about the horrific conditions in which I would frequently fire up the grill. I am like the US Postal Service, neither rain nor snow nor dark of night will keep my from placing the appointed meat over an open flame. This of course, I get from my dad. Because that is exactly what he would do at seemingly every Memorial Day cook-out. The image I have locked in my memory is of him grilling hamburgers and hot dogs to perfection on our old classic black and round Weber charcoal grill while huddled under the eave of the garage at our old house in Calumet City in order to protect himself from yet another torrential downpour. I am pretty sure it didn’t rain every Memorial Day, but it sure seemed like it. Someday, I may have to search through my parents’ old pictures to see if there is a picture capturing this moment, because I would love to have a copy of it.
So on this day dedicated to remembering our country’s military heroes, I want you to take an extra moment to also remember those lesser known heroes that make our summer celebrations more sweet. The men and women who position themselves, and your treasured entrees, over the searing hot flames of the grill, no matter the weather. Thank you for the memories, and the tasty food.