Monday is the first time in recent memory that I will miss the Memorial Day Parade in Medina.

For as many years as I can remember, I would load the car up with folding chairs and three whining kids, reminding them that they could sacrifice a morning of sleeping in to honor the people who had sacrificed their very lives in service to our country.

My kids were embarrassed when I always teared up as the elderly veterans of World War II were driven past us in convertibles, looking humbled by the applause they received from the crowds. Without fail, every single time I yelled, "Thank you for your service," my voice would crack because of the lump in my throat. Of course, that embarrassed my kids all the more.

The parade was always followed by a solemn ceremony at Spring Grove Cemetery, which ended with a three-volley salute. It was only then that we could return home and they could go back to bed if they so desired.

Things were much different when I was a kid. Every May 30, no matter what day of the week, my mom, my great-grandmother, my great-aunt Hallie and I would pile into the station wagon, then pick up Blanche Dorsel, a longtime family friend and peony queen. Her peonies were so beautiful and big that she could barely get her hands around all the stems as she walked to the car.

She would give me the flowers and the ants that came with them, which usually found their way up my arms and down my legs. I always stayed tight-lipped about the ants since I was the only child in the car full of adults who held heavy conversation in hushed tones about the names on the graves we would be decorating.

In fact, back then, we even called it Decoration Day. Although Memorial Day became its official title in the 1880s, it wouldn’t legally become Memorial Day until 1967. Another big change happened in 1971, when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was enacted and moved Memorial Day to the last Monday of May to give people a long weekend.

According to Jennifer Mittelstadt, a history professor at Rutgers University, the primary reasoning behind moving many holidays to Mondays was commercial. In her words, “It was good for business.” That’s for sure. The best deal I ever got on a washer and dryer was over a Labor Day weekend sale!

An interesting and somewhat troubling to me sidebar is that parts of the initial legislation, which was eventually passed in 1968, called for Independence Day to take place on the first Monday in July instead of the Fourth. And we think politicians today are crazy!

I may be crazy, too, since this Monday I am going for an 8-mile hike in Mohican State Park. My friend Debbie seems to think I need to put in some miles before we hit the road for our planned weeklong hike on the Appalachian Trail in June. She’s been doing it for eight years.

This will be my first and maybe my last. We’ll see. Sleeping in a tiny tent, filtering puddle water so it’s drinkable, eating sticks of dried meat and swatting bugs. Not to mention carrying everything I need for the week in a backpack, the weight of which she said should not exceed 33 pounds.

Come to think of it, it sounds a little bit like a soldier’s life albeit a brief taste. I am only doing this for fun and for my heart. But those who braved Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, Normandy, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War and Afghanistan didn’t do it for fun. I find myself becoming quite solemn now as I think of the list of battles and wars Americans have been involved in, too numerous to mention. All the sacrifices made, the lives lost and the lives that never were because someone’s husband or mother died.

My own mother lost hers at the end of WWII. She was a WAC who died in a plane crash coming back from Hawaii. She drowned in the Pacific Ocean. My mom was just 11.

Proving that I was quite literal from a very young age, my great-grandmother would tell me about her, how beautiful and kind she was and how her body was buried in Honolulu. The problem was my own mother used the word “body” when I was taking a bath. “Make sure to wash your body,” she would say. It was code for you know where.

Finally, after hearing about my grandmother year after year, I got up the nerve to ask why they only buried that part of her. It was a family joke for years.

They say hindsight is 20/20. So is writing about something before you don’t do it.

I will go hiking Monday but it will be after I get my 20-month-old granddaughter up and dressed and we head for that parade. It will be her second year. Eventually she will be old enough to know that paying our respects to those who sacrificed all is a family tradition.

 

Contact Robin Swoboda at Robinswoboda@outlook.com.