I've written--earlier, here and elsewhere--about my father's experiences in North Africa and Europe during World War Two. If you've read Rick Atkinson's excellent books (beginning with "An Army at Dawn"), you have an idea of how hard and frightening and wild that whole campaign was. My dad almost died a couple of times but still came home from war full of tales of adventure--a country boy in the ancient homelands. My mother would leave the room when he geared up for another story about Italy and German soldiers and stolen champagne.
I never knew either of my biological grandfathers but my grandmother's second husband was, in every sense, my grandfather. His war story is different.
Many of us have the opportunity to honor lost loved ones on this holiday. I myself lost my beloved grandmother on Memorial Day weekend in 2010. It was always striking to me that she chose then to go, considering that she was a proud DAR sister who would always enjoy the parade. One year she helped scatter flowers from the bridge to float down the Fox River, in remembrance of veterans lost. I recall attending some of the parades when I was very small and we would go to visit. We would line up in folding lawn chairs along the sidewalk in from of her house, as that was where the parade would march past. I remember getting very riled up when I would hear the first booming of the bass drums and the rat-a-tat-tat of the crisp snares as they approached. I would be hopping from foot to anxious foot, waiting for them to get right up in front of us so that I could be enveloped in the wall of sound and lost in the rhythm of percussive thunder.
If you are one of the fortunate ones who do not have to work on this particular weekend and can get away with friends or family, a tribal drum circle can be a fun and empowering way to bond and raise some major energy. I have employed this at some Memorial Day family gatherings in the past and it proved quite effective. First, make sure that you let everyone attending know in advance to bring noisemakers, hand drums, shakers, maracas, what have you. Bring extras of your own if you sense that guests are in short supply. You can fashion a homemade shaker out of an empty plastic bottle filled with popcorn seeds in a pinch. Ideally, this is an activity best performed after a good feast and everyone's tummies are well-sated. Make sure that everyone has beverages to stay hydrated. Sometimes drum circles can take awhile before they are ready to settle down! If you are able to drum near a lake or other body of water, it can prove very inspiring. My favorite time to start is right at dusk, when the sun is turning the sky to magic time and the moon is on her rise. One year because of various planetary phenomena, the moon was a brilliant shade of pink that I don't believe that I have seen since.
Earlier this month I was researching the meaning of May-talk about a magical month rife with folklore and folk magic traditions! I noticed and recollected that many of the themes of May deal with similar themes that we encounter during the opposite time of year-as the sun enters Scorpio and we head into the season of Samhain, All Saint’s Day, and Dia de los Muertos.
I have a picture of my dad from the 1940s, looking pretty cocky. He went into the Army when he was 19 and they sent him to North Africa, Sicily and then into Italy. Somehow he also got to France, where he drank champagne for the first time.
So, I'm thinking of him on Memorial Day. And of my Gaga, my step-grandfather, who was gassed in France during WWI and never really recovered. And of my maternal grandfather Bill Boyd who was a sailor during WWI. I have a photo of my grandmother wearing his sailor suit after the war.
As I write this, it's early Friday afternoon and I'm just back from running errands and I'm about to start preparations for a House ritual tomorrow and my Memorial Day observances Monday. When I was out and about today, several people wished me 'happy holiday' and you know, we all work hard, and I understand the anticipation of a three day weekend, or an unexpected day off, so I returned the greeting but I couldn't help but think "this isn't a holiday. It's so much more than that." and I wonder if anyone gives any thought anymore to what Memorial Day is really about.