Posted tagged ‘Memorial Day’

Memories of Memorial Day

May 29, 2010



Memorial Day Weekend

Memorial Day Weekend.

When I was a child growing up in suburban Maryland, the weekend was glorious. It meant the opening of swimming pools for summer; it meant the opening of summer for summer.   It meant that any school days we had left would count for nothing but a countdown, in which the sweat accumulating at the backs of our knees would smell faintly of graphite and the white vinegar used to sponge down the school cafeteria.

The pool was where we spent almost every daylight moment in our summers.  We had no air conditioning,  managed the heat through damp bathing suits, that were kept on even after we came home, darting around the slow darkening of summer yards, kept on even in the blue glare of night TV.

Later, as an adult, Memorial Day Weekend meant a chance to drag my two children to upstate New York, leaving the very momentary green of May city for some real, deep, comprehensive, green.  We seemed to be collecting coolness up there too.   (Air conditioning has not been an easy accomplishment in my life and there is nothing like most New York City apartments for jumping into summer fast, each room its own little microcosm of global warming.)

It was only on these trips up to the country that I glimpsed the true meaning of Memorial Day.  There is one cemetery our route passes; actually the road bifurcates it; drives smack down the middle.

Of course, the cemetery is green in May;  it’s green all summer long, the grass lush, fenced in, mown, lined with small brown and grey headstones that look almost like the class of kids in my old schoolroom, half-asleep.

There were always a few little bouquets, some too brilliant against the rectangular stones to be completely real.  But on Memorial Day weekend, there were more, and, with the flowers, small American flags, prongs stuck into the earth or on small stands

Sometimes, driving by, we’d see a few small groups, women with pale hair scalloped around their faces, the curves made by curlers, or permanents, old-fashioned hair.  Women with pastel pants, sometimes worn under dark windbreakers; upstate New York’s weather changeable in May.

Even watching them, with their curled hair and small American flags, it took me a while to catch on.

(For a villanelle about swimming in summer at the pool, check here.)