Memorial Day Memories



When I was growing up in the 50s and 60s we always visited the graves of our family on Memorial Day. Memorial ay was the 31st of May back then in prehistoric times.

We had lost my uncle in World War II. I never knew him as he died 10 years before I was born. He was killed while in a hospital for wounded soldiers in Corregidor. He had been injured on Iwo Jima and then taken to the hospital where the Japanese bombed the hospital. He died on April 24, 1942.

We also had lost my grandfathers and my adored great-uncle Jack. Even though he died a month before my first birthday I can remember Uncle Jack. My mom would hold me up in the window at night before bed and Uncle Jack would be looking out his window to wave good night to me. I remember doing that clearly.

Uncle Jack took care of my mother’s family because my grandfather – to put a nice word on it – was lazy. There were some hilarious conversations between my mom and dad about Grandpa Henry. Like the time Dad got him a job working as a laborer and Grandpa showed up walking on a cane. Which he had never done before.

My Grandpa Carey was a real character. He was so boisterous they kicked him out of the hospital shortly before he died. We got a call in the middle of the night that we had to come get him as he was throwing such a tantrum they would not keep him there. What a night that was!

Grandpa Carey got up every morning super early. Mom lived up the street from them in a town with 90 residents. They could all hear him scream “Hattie where the f* are you?” My mother was mortified by his behavior. The night we took him to Foosland after the hospital there was ice on the road. My mom wouldn’t stay there because Grandpa Carey was screaming and swearing. We went home. He died that night. My Grandma Hattie was crushed from that day on she missed him so badly.

Grandpa Carey was a character – to put it mildly. He was a carpenter like my Dad. When the University of Illinois was hiring carpenters they wouldn’t hire relatives. Grandpa told Dad to get the job because he had longer to work and had a young family. Instead Grandpa went to manage the garbage dump. A man after my own heart, he brought stuff home. If only I’d been old enough to look through all the treasures! I remember a lamb cake mold and a cast iron cornbread pan shaped like ears of corn.

Every Memorial Day we would take Grandma Hattie – she lived with us – and Grandma Nanny if she was visiting from California – to the cemetery. All of my family was buried in the general area between Foosland and Gibson City, Illinois. There were little country roads we had to go down with wooden bridges over culverts. We would take flowers to the graves and Grandma Hattie would be in fits. I think she was depressed from the moment Grandpa died and never got over it. Grandma Nanny was a more practical soul. She missed Henry I’m sure but maybe not all that much. After all he wasn’t a whole lot of help to her and the 5 kids. If it hadn’t been for Uncle Jack they all would have starved. Grandma had moved to California after we had a family road trip out there and she saw how beautiful it was. So from 1959 until the 70s she lived there. She married again at the age of 65 and my mother was angry with her. Whatever for? Anyway Grandma would fly back from time to time and the excitement was almost more than I could bear waiting for her at the teeny little airport outside of Champaign.

As I got older I was excused from the trips to graves. I could stay home and read and listen to the Chicago White Sox play baseball on my transistor radio. Those were lovely days.

Now we have way too many graves. We have our soldiers from all of the wars they’ve fought for us. World War II was definitely a war that we had to win. I see no less an issue in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have to win. The war on terror that Obama won’t talk about is real. And we need to win that too. I fear we will only be able to win small skirmishes in that war as there are an infinite number of crazy nasty terrorists out there planning havoc.

We need to remember all the people we’ve lost in horrendous violence in this country. The sickening assault on people. A violence which  seems to be accelerating. Given my beliefs – I know they are fine and that they chose to live in a body that had a short time span attached to it. I believe they needed to go when they did. But it makes it no less hard for their families.

So Monday – in between the parade and the cookout – give a prayer for all of our dead. They’ll be standing there wishing they could have a burger too ———–



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