In later years Mom could no longer participate in the parade (due to an increasingly bad case of rheumatoid arthritis), but we continued watching from the sidelines as Dad and my uncle marched. The numbers did thin out each May, with the World War I vets slowly disappearing, and my grandfather passed on when I was 18. That was the start of Memorial Day never being the same.
I remember him talking about life on a submarine during the war. They were forever searching for German U-boats. Of course, this was not a glamorous life by any means. Cramped, dark, and hot all the time, my grandfather still felt he was serving his country and did it and never complained later on. He always said the food was good, and he survived, and many guys were not able to say that.
Years later when I went to the parade with my own children, I was shocked by the depleted ranks. Some of World War II vets sat in cars, but the veteran marchers numbered less than one hundred (when there used to be over one thousand in my youth). Luckily, school bands and other organizations filled in the gaps and it was pleasant to watch, especially the many fire trucks covered with flowing flags and tributes to their own, soldiers of a different type who marched into buildings on 9/11 and never returned.
In the last five years Memorial Day has taken on an added meaning for me because my mother passed away the day after it. So each year I try to remember the good times we had on Memorial Day, and I recall my mother in her healthy days wearing that flowing gown dressed as Miss Liberty. As I picture her torch in hand a smile on her face, I know that is how I wish to remember her on this day.
Yes, Memorial Day has changed over the years, but its spirit remains the same: to honor those fallen in the service of their country. So I'll raise a flag and wave it high in the air this weekend, and in doing so I will be honoring not only all those lost in wars but the families who have lost loved ones.
And somewhere my Mom still carries the torch as she did in life, brightly burning a light through my darkness to illuminate what matters most of all. Thanks, Mom.
Photo Credit: VFW.org