A Memorial Day Story

Yesterday morning, the family got up and dressed in preparation for what has become a tradition–our town’s Memorial Day parade. As I was going between kids’ rooms, Hannah Grace stopped me:

“We’re going to get candy today at the parade.”

Caleb immediately responded from his room, yelling, “It’s not about the candy, Hannah!”

“But I’m going to get candy,” she replied.

“It’s about our soldiers, Hannah Grace! I’m not even thinking about candy!!”

I chuckled and affirmed Caleb that Memorial Day is about our fallen soldiers, but, yes, Hannah Grace was right, too; people do throw candy from the floats.

Caleb then walked over to me and shared one small caveat: “I don’t care, but if they throw the candy in front of me, I”ll pick it up.”

And pick it up he did. For someone who didn’t care about candy, he did pretty well. In fact, when Caleb was given the task of picking out 15 pieces of candy from his bag, he agonized over the decision as if I told him his sisters were hanging off a cliff, and he could only save one.

Caleb’s intentions were pure–he wanted to reflect on the true reason for Memorial Day–but he got lured in by the candy and the fanfare and an excuse to go swimming. I, too, have trouble keeping my focus.

There are many veterans in my family, but I have never personally known someone who died fighting for our country. And while my family and I pause every Memorial Day to thank those who laid down their lives, to thank the families who have one less person sitting around their table for dinner, we cannot truly appreciate their sacrifice.

We are thankful, but we are thankful for something we do not fully understand. So to those who understand all too well, all year round, I hope you can accept our gratitude, even if we are naive. For one thing that I do understand is that if it were not for the brave men and women that you love, I wouldn’t enjoy our freedoms with the ones I love.


I started this post yesterday, but I think it’s going to take me a few more days to figure out this summer routine. I keep convincing myself that the kids will sleep later so that I can, too. Of course, we all know how that theory turns out. Anyway, here it is, a day late.

Does your family have any Memorial Day traditions that honor our fallen men and women?

The Stirring

I remember sitting in Spanish III, listening to the Army representative describe the most wonderful program I could imagine. They would take me to a school in Colorado, I believe, and I would learn another language. That would be my job–to become fluent–and every day under their instruction I would get closer and closer to that goal.

Looking around that room, I knew I wasn’t the only one who was excited. We all leaned forward in our chairs, smiles stretched across our faces; learning another language was exciting for this group of over-achievers.

Until someone asked the rather important question:

“But would we have to join the Army?”

“Yes, you would have to fulfill a commitment to the Army,” the young man explained.

We all groaned audibly, flung ourselves back in our seats, and the young man smiled, a smile showing his disappointment that the program he had described so beautifully, grabbing our interest, would not become a reality for anybody.

We weren’t going to join the Army; we were going to college.

Of course, no one ever really explained what joining the Army or any branch of the military would entail. In the community where I grew up, the military was reserved more for those who couldn’t get into college or for those rare few who participated in ROTC in high school.

I remember when the Marine ROTC program came to our school; I, actually, contemplated taking the classes, but I always found another course that I had to take instead, a reason ROTC wouldn’t work in my schedule.

So I never understood that the Army or any other branch of service was more was than the horrors of Basic Training I had seen in movies. I didn’t understand that not everyone would have to fire an M-16 at the enemy. I didn’t understand that I could still go to college and actually get money for college if I did ROTC at my university.

I was ignorant.

I did talk to a recruiter once, but I had no intention of joining the Army. I grabbed every bumper sticker and pamphlet from his table, put them all in a bag with the giant letters across it spelling ‘Army,’ and I convinced my friends I was going to join. My boyfriend whispered in fear, “If you join the Army, I’m going to have to break up with you,and I remember thinking to myself You are so stupid. If I want to join the Army, I will whether or not you break up with me.

Of course, I was the stupid one as I continued to date him for another year and a half.

And I was the stupid one for having not sought out that hidden interest until a college degree had been under my belt for a few years.

But on days like the other day, as we celebrate as a community,

driving our old cars,

waving our American flags,

and remembering why we have gathered,

I find that familiar stirring again.

I don’t pray for my children to inherit the stirring, but if they have it, I will support them. And I will make sure that they understand.

Many, even within our own country, would like us to think that America is nothing special; we’re the same as any other country. I couldn’t disagree more. We have our periods in history that I wish we could go back and erase, but when I listen to the news and hear of the atrocities committed elsewhere, remember the reasons our young country was founded and the principles for which young men and woman continue to die in order to protect, I think we’re pretty darned special.

Special enough to catch the ears of some spoiled juniors in a Spanish III class.

Was joining the military presented as a realistic option to you growing up? Would you encourage your own children to join?



A Parade and a Pause

We walked down the sidewalk and found our spots near the street, making room for the two strollers and our bottoms along the wet curb. It was sticky, the rain from last night still hanging in the air.  The kids were excited, but they didn’t know why.  They knew they were about to witness a parade, but what exactly a parade was, they didn’t know.

The emcee on the loudspeaker made Matt and me laugh, as his introduction turned into a passionate speech a little too long to keep the attention of the younger crowd. This man was beaming with pride for his country and the work he had done to make this parade happen.

We all stood to say the pledge of allegiance, and I looked on and smiled as Caleb and Hannah Grace both placed their little hands over their hearts, saying the familiar words. A little more talking from the emcee, and then we sang the National Anthem.  The parade would begin.

The parade didn’t have the glitz and glamor of other parades I had seen, and if I had forgotten exactly where I lived, I was quickly reminded by the 30 or so tractors that made their appearance in the line-up.  While Dacula,Georgia, is growing, there is still a strong segment that wants to hold on to that small town feel.

And small town it did feel.  One high school marching band filled the air with the sounds of horns and drums, a relatively small group of students marching in matching shorts and t-shirts, their sheet music taped to the backs of the kids in front of them.  The politicians made their rounds shaking hands while their team of followers scurried behind, passing out glossy flyers while keeping their place in the parade.  Our emcee was quick to point out that the parade did not endorse any candidate, and since we lived in America, these candidates had the right to exercise their free speech.

Hannah Grace later said that her favorite part of the parade was the horsies.  Rodeo women dressed in blue-sequined shirts sat atop the large horses that helped close the show. Caleb, of course, loved the candy.  Oh, the candy!  Fistfuls thrown from every vehicle, every float with hand-painted signs, every Boy Scout and Girl Scout troupe that walked by waving.  Like little ants the children were drawn to the pieces that bounced off the street; like vultures this mother and father waited to weed out the lollipops and Jawbreakers from the loot.

The little beauty queens waved while sitting prim with perfect posture, while the tumblers flipped, causing Matt and me to wince with each back-handspring thinking about our own wrists and ankles taking that kind of impact on the street.

It was a simple parade.

Proudly, our active duty, veterans, and retirees represented the different branches of our Armed Forces. Some marched displaying the uniforms that they wore during their time of service.  Others drove by in their recruiting vehicles, music pounding out the back. My heart swelled when the Air Force Junior ROTC marched together in solemnity displaying the blue I had come to know a few years ago.  And I felt the warm tears in my eyes when the WAVES drove by, women who were once young and brave serving their country, now some of the few remaining to tell of their time of service.

We all cheered and waved, smiling at those who had served, were serving, or would serve our country.  We wanted to thank them for all they had or would sacrifice for us.  In our little spot in this great big country, we had gathered to give thanks.

And we paused.  The boisterous noise of the crowd fell to silence except for the occasional child speaking. 173 men and women carrying white signs, each with the name, age, and date that one of our service members from Georgia had died since 9/11, caused us to pause.  As I watched these 173 people walk by, my heart felt heavy, and I brushed away the tears.  A 20-year-old. A 47-year-old.  For some reason those two ages remained in my memory. Someone’s son, possibly someone’s father. They made the sacrifice that most of us were not willing to make.

We know better.  Matt and I have veterans and active duty military on both sides of our family.  I am a veteran. Yet this is the first time that we have paused with our children on Memorial Day.  We look forward to the holiday, a day off with Daddy, and we thank God for those who died for us when we pray, but we rarely pause.

As the parade went on, we would squint our eyes, for the sun had made an appearance along with the faithful Georgia humidity.  Matt made a quick trip to the car for sunscreen, and we painted our kids’ faces white.  Chloe managed to stay awake; although, she did her best to recline in her little stroller.  I don’t know which was affecting her more, the lack of a nap or the intense sun and heat.  Hannah Grace lost her festive red and white sparkly ponytail holder somewhere along the way, and Caleb spent more time with the boy next to us looking for candy than with his own family.

When the parade was over, we grabbed our strollers and made our way back towards the car while the rest of the throng packed up their lawn chairs and candy.  The heat had drained us, and we were all tired.

It was a simple parade.  It didn’t have the glitz and glamour of other parades I had seen, but it caused me to pause.  And considering the reason for our holiday, it was the very least I could do.