In the United States of America, it is Memorial Day Weekend.
Officially, it is when we remember and salute our war dead.
Unofficially, it is the beginning of summer and the end of regular. We go to the cemetery, and decorate the graves of our ancestors, and place American flags by the headstones of those who died serving our country. We grill hamburgers and hot dogs, and drink lemonade, and watch the kids try to catch lightening bugs in a jar. We watch the parade down on Main Street, and salute when the flags pass by.
And summer begins.
Depending on where you are this morning, school is either out for the year, or will be soon. The kids will have no greater agenda than running through the sprinklers and seeing how far they can coast on their bikes from the top of the hill. Sleeping late, and grilling out become routine. Shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops are the uniform for the next three months, with your bathing suit underneath - just in case you decide to go swimming. The air conditioning is cold inside the house, and the weather is warm and muggy outside, and the shock of moving from one to the other gives you goosebumps.
Our family has no war dead (at least none that I know of) to memorialize. My Dad was a Korean War vet, but he survived his battlefield injuries (thanks to a MASH unit) and returned home to go to college, marry Mom, and father me. Nevertheless, Mom and I went to the cemetery this last week, and placed cheerful bouquets of white and yellow daisies in the vases on either side of their headstone. We tied wire-edged ribbon around the vases in cheerful yellow-plaid bows, and we cleaned off the bird poop and the bits of mown grass from the monument.
As we worked, we talked. Mom hasn't been here, home, to do this particular chore for the last thirteen years, and she seemed surprised and happy that I did things the way she always had. We completed our work, and as we walked back to the minivan, she started to talk about Daddy. Much of it I had heard before, but there were new tidbits of information here and there; some surprising, others bittersweet.
We shed no tears; time has given us the gift of distance. The pain that was so acute, so fresh and raw has dulled to a heartfelt longing. The first year was tough - it was terrible. There were so many "firsts"; the first Christmas without Daddy, the first birthdays without Daddy, their first anniversary apart. Every holiday there was a Dad-shaped hole where he should have been. Every day at 5:20 pm, there was a sadness when we didn't hear his distinctive tread on the sidewalk and the porch. We felt our way blindly through that first year, just trying to survive with out Daddy.
The second year was still hard, but easier by the knowledge that we knew that we could survive - after all, we had made it through that horrible first year and all the horrible "first time withouts", but now we had to begin the process of creating new traditions, and finding new ways of doing things without Daddy in them. And we have. We have gone on with our lives, have learned to laugh and love and rejoice without him here. It doesn't mean that we don't miss him, because we do. I would give every earthly possession I have, or might ever have, just for one more hour with my Dad. Just to be able to see him hold Twinks one time. Just to hear his voice once more. Just to feel his arms around me, and to feel safe and loved as only my Daddy could make me feel.
He's never far from us - we know that. The monument that stands out at the cemetery is simply a way to make sure that the rest of the world does not forget him.
We will always remember.