My older sisters accuse me of making up stories. I repeatedly assure them that I don’t have a good imagination; I have a good memory. Then they’ll disagree about the specifics of a past event and call to ask what I remember about something that happened before I was born. Maybe I tell the tale I’ve always heard. Maybe I create answers to entertain myself. They surely don’t know.
Tomorrow is Memorial Day, a federal holiday designated to remember soldiers who died during wartimes, as opposed to Veterans Day, which is set aside to honor all U.S. Armed Forces members. My nephew serves as a pilot and a major in the United States Air Force. I’m as proud of him as I’ve ever been of any other person whom I love.
But you know what?
I don’t know a single soldier who died for me. My great, great granddaddy John Curtis Byrd lost an arm in the Civil War. I don’t know what personal fear pressured a dirt poor white farmer with a passel of children to enlist to fight the damn Yankees. I don’t know where he battled or where that arm was left behind. I didn’t have a granddaddy in WWI. Uncle Dick fought in WWII. I was too young when I knew him to ask him relevant questions. Uncle Buddy served in Germany during Korea. I assume Daddy was too young for Korea and old enough to avoid Vietnam. When my son turned 18 and registered with Selective Service, I grieved for the mamas of the boys of Vietnam. Really, genuinely, pondered their sorrow many times during that year. I’d never even thought about them before. Aunt Betty worked at Fort Rucker for more than 40 years. I am sure she knew soldiers who lost their lives. She never told me about them. But I never asked.
I puzzle over how I can honor the memory of someone I don’t remember. How would I want someone who didn’t remember me to honor me?
Perhaps by doing unto others as I would have them do unto me.
Perhaps by obeying Mama, who nagged, “Remember who you are.”
Perhaps by . . .
• Listening to old people
• Listening to children
• Ah, heck, just listening
• Rocking babies
• Holding hands
• Making friends with someone who looks different than the face in the mirror
• Not whining about the line at the drive-through
• Not turning left on the Circle, except at stoplights
• Not comparing heartache
• Going to reunions
• Attending weddings and funerals, remembering that gifts and casseroles are important, but less so than time and presence
• Wandering through graveyards
• Road tripping
• Over tipping
• Returning stuff
• Going to high school football games
• Watching The Andy Griffith Show and It’s a Wonderful Life
• Asking “How are you hurting?” instead of “How ya doin’?”
• Saying please, thank you, you’re welcome, I’m sorry, and you might be right
• Recognizing that most folks are good people, regardless of differences in politics, religion, or football, that most folks just want their children to be secure—even damn Yankees
• Confessing to someone of personal fear, because chances are that person is afraid, too, and seeking a confidant
• Answering “yup!” at bedtime when a weary friend texts “Are you awake?”
• Being brave, one exhausting breath at a time.
For Americans, Memorial Day brackets the opening of summertime, our perfect picture of picnic tables and children in bathing suits. I hope most fallen soldiers would be content with that. Safe in their backyards with their beloveds seems like the best spot for strangers to remember those who made it so.
Celeste King Conner holds her people tightly in her heart. Tell her about your people at email@example.com.