Hollie Grimaldi Flores: Memorable Memorial Day
Memorial Day, also known as “the unofficial start of summer,” did not get the memo this year.
Though it has “snowed on the dogwoods,” clouds, rainy days, and cool temperatures are persisting through the end of the month. I was thinking that Mother Nature thought some of us needed a gentle reminder that Memorial Day is more than a three-day weekend, retail sales and barbecues.
I recently took a road trip to surprise my sister on her 70th birthday. She has lived in the middle of America for nearly half a century and I rarely see her aside from weddings and funerals.
When my brother and sister-in-law planned a month-long sojourn across America, it was with my eldest sister’s birthday celebration in mind. Their itinerary after a jammed packed five-day whirlwind with me and mine, was to spend a few days traveling across Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and the entirety of Nebraska in time join her immediate family in celebration of their matriarch. It seemed like a grand idea when I decided to hop into the backseat and tag along as a birthday surprise.
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While I looked forward to seeing the woman who had a large hand in raising me, I did not really consider the journey I was about to undertake. Sixteen hundred miles over three days meant a lot of time looking out the window that leaves little wonder why they are often referred to as the “fly-over” states. But it also meant stops at mom and pop diners, truck stops, and hotels built for weary travelers like us.
What I saw along the way was the sameness that makes up the spirit of our beautiful country.
As we motored along, we passed countless tractor trailers carrying untold goods and all manner of livestock on their way to … a new home? We kept pace and overtook trains lumbering through mountain passes and the flatlands. I felt a stir of emotion as an entourage of motorcyclists left a parking lot to continue their journey to Washington D.C. as part of Rolling Thunder. I saw American pride in manner, deed, and, occasionally, bumper sticker.
At several rest areas, we took pause to read monuments built to remember war veterans.
When we made it to my sister’s home, she was as shocked as I had hoped she would be to see me. We spent the weekend catching up, looking through old photos and telling stories. She and my brother related family history and shared tales, comparing memories.
Surrounded by her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, I got a true sampling of middle America. These are people who are living close to where they were born, marrying high school sweethearts, working in manufacturing plants and public service. They live simply, paycheck to paycheck, and are the heart of America.
After a tearful goodbye, to my brother and sister-in-law who continued their journey back to the East Coast, my sister and I were lucky enough to spend some time alone together, before I was scheduled to catch a flight home.
She asked if I wanted to do some sightseeing and we jumped in her vehicle to take a drive. Aside from taking in some recent flood damage, when I say, “sightseeing”, I mean it in the singular term. There was just one sight to see. In this county seat of 26,000 residents in eastern Nebraska, the city has erected an incredible monument to honor veterans in all divisions of the military and all of the wars.
It is at once educational, remarkably beautiful, and sobering.
Every citizen of the city who served, is represented on a series of marble columns, with their name, photo, the war or conflict they were part of, their years of service, and on some, the letters K.I.A. — denoting those killed in action. One row struck me, as name after name had three things in common, the Vietnam War, the letters K.I.A. and less than a year of service. It was incredibly moving and brought the true meaning of Memorial Day to the forefront of my mind.
My brother-in-law is on that wall. He was drafted and served in the Navy during the Vietnam War — luckily returning home to marry my sister. Together, they raised three children, who gave them eight grandchildren, who have given them a whopping 14 great grandchildren — with another on the way (another birthday surprise for my sis as sonogram photos were gift wrapped). My nephew also served in the Navy and his son is currently stationed in Japan. (We have an active sailor in the family as well.)
A lot of “what if’s” played out when thinking about those odds of life and death in that era and we are acutely aware that men and women continue to die while serving our nation.
My hope and prayer are that we never have a family member honored on Memorial Day – the U.S. federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May to honor the men and women who have died while serving in the military.
While Memorial Day has passed, when the weather does take a turn toward summer, let’s take a moment to give thanks to those who have stepped up and given all, so we can enjoy an occasional extra day off and a barbecue.
Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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