I noticed a lot of Memorial Day posts on Facebook last week. Gentle reminders to honor our fallen. Remember, they urged, it’s not National Barbeque Day. Yet these two events have been linked in my mind for as long as I can remember. Traditions. Mine are so ingrained that I can’t imagine holidays any other way. Reading the posts Monday morning I closed my eyes for a moment...and went back.
They always planned ahead. Even though common gardening wisdom says to pinch back the mums until the 4th of July, my folks wanted to make sure there were plenty of flowers. So they let them bloom. Memorial Day preparations began the night before with Mom in the kitchen. She stirred vanilla custard on the double boiler, covered the thickened pudding with plastic wrap and set it in the fridge to thoroughly chill.
Memories are delightful, dreamy places. It’s a blessing that I selectively remember the most savory morsels. The sweet moments mixed with a few tangy ones.
Early in the morning my parents worked together--Mom with coffee cans full of water and Dad perched over the flower bed. When the cans were filled with mums we loaded up and and drove to the other side of town to fetch my grandmother.
Once Grandmother joined us we drove to the cemetery where she set to work. Kneeling at the gravestones in a flowered dress and enormous sun hat she tenderly clipped the overgrown grass. She worked in silence caring for two--my grandfather’s stone and the tiny marker for her firstborn son. We set the cans of blooms in place...and left.
Memorial Day was always the same. And it will be.... forever in my mind. There’s a comfort in that. Cans of chrysanthemums, Grandmother’s hat, an expanse of lawn dotted with solemn markers. That’s what Memorial Day means to me.
Then there was the food. Back at home Dad filled a stainless steel cylinder with the pre-chilled custard and hunkered at the curb cranking the ice cream maker. It felt like an eternity before we were allowed to sample the first spoonfuls of sweet soft-serve. How could we wait half a day to dive into heaping bowls?
In the golden late afternoon Dad started the grill. Grilling at our house was a ritual of fire enhanced with intoxicating aromas of charcoal, hickory, gasoline. My brother and I watched with amazement. Every time. From this pillar of fire came juicy burgers that were seared to perfection. We had a feast--burgers with homegrown tomatoes, hot german potato salad, ice cream smothered with fresh picked strawberries.
What delicious memories! Yes, that too is what Memorial Day means to me--a day to remember. Family memories and traditions so vivid I go back...at the mere mention of the day. Even though my childhood home is far away my memories remain close.
A clip from the past. My dad gives my then 6-year-old son a grilling lesson.
A very special Christmas gift. I can't even guess the year. Less than twenty years ago, and more than 15. A holiday celebration in my parents' home. In spite of forgetting the year I remember every detail of the exchange. The smile on my mom's face as I opened the package. My wail when I saw the contents, "but these are yours!" And then...we cried together. Over sterling and crystal vanity jars. They sat on Mom's dressing table for 20 years. On her mother's for a lifetime before that.
I didn't want the gift because I knew what it meant. I wanted my mother; not her jars. Quite persistently throughout Christmas day, she shared their history. Grudgingly, I took them home and placed them on a shelf. The shift was gradual. One day I opened a lid and dropped in a lock of hair….then a cub scout patch. The vanity jars became guardians for those little bits of childhood--a baseball card, a dairy queen whistle
, baby teeth and more--that made me smile. Precious vessels for the memories of my precious children.
As my children left the nest the jars held less of theirs...and more of mine. I realized one would be perfect for my makeup brushes. Another could hold delicate necklaces and the small one would be good for earrings. They were lovely to look at. And now I looked at them and used them every day.
The fourth was the most unusual--the jar with a hair receiver lid. "After brushing her hair before bed, a women cleaned the brush and placed the collected hair in her receiver jar." Now I smile to remember Mom's story. Recently needing a safety pin, I emptied that jar. Instead of the fastener came a sudden rush of memories. I wailed, just like that far away Christmas. With tears in my eyes I realized the jar held much more than safety pins, buttons and cotton balls. At the very bottom…a baby tooth. Who knew that could be so potent!
At last grateful for her gift, I can put this in perspective. My mother brought the vanity jars home after her mother was already gone. Mom saw a chance to do something different. By sharing her history in person I have far more than a collection of antique jars. It doesn't really matter but I wonder what Mom kept in them? Memories, I guess.