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This Monday, May 27, is the nation’s officially designated Memorial Day. My mother-in-law never called it anything but Decoration Day, and never celebrated it on any day other than May 30 in any given year.
The day has an interesting history, and yet its essence today is simple and can be distilled as follows: Let us remember, in all the ways we can, those members of the United States Armed Forces who’ve given their all, so that we may live in peace and freedom. One of the ways we do that, in context and with love and appreciation in our hearts, is to enjoy the day with our family and friends. We may attend community and church events. Often, we picnic and have fun. Sometimes we mourn a personal and private loss. But always, we remember and are thankful.
I was first introduced to “Memorial Day” in the mid-1960s. We had moved from the UK and were living in a Pittsburgh suburb, where Memorial Day was commemorated each year with a huge block party. I don’t know if they’re such a big deal anymore, but at the time they were very popular get-togethers, and it seemed as though every neighbor and resident, and almost all male family members (and a few women, too), had been actively engaged in the war effort (Vietnam, Korea, WWII, and even a few WWI veterans), most of them in combat. And everyone had relatives and friends who’d died in battle. The party itself was always a pleasant event and cheerful event, a day of fellowship and tradition, the start of summer, the day the community swimming pools opened, but it was also a time of somber reflection and remembrance, of flags displayed and of prayer, and of appreciation for those who had paid a price, sometimes with their bodies, sometimes with their souls, so that we and our families could enjoy the day peacefully and freely. The annual Memorial Day picnics were one of the events that bound us together as friends and neighbors, and as part of a common culture and community.
I remember being fascinated by the Memorial Day picnic food. Who on earth ever thought of serving potatoes and eggs cold as a sort of salad? Or something called “macaroni salad?” Cole slaw? Good grief. Hot dogs. Hamburgers. Chicken wings (what did they do with the rest of the bird, I used to wonder)? I’d never eaten any of it before. Kool-Aid for the kids to drink (cheap and cheerful). Ugh. Iron City beer for the men. Pop for the ladies. Coffee later on. And the desserts! I’d never seen so many. Cakes and cookies galore.
I have to confess to a sweet tooth and a soft spot for desserts, so although I can’t remember the first time I came across it, I’ll give special mention here to one of my favorites–that pretzel, strawberry, Cool Whip concoction. I know that, in theory at least, it’s rather revolting. But I love it so.
And I’m going to make it, first thing tomorrow morning.
Please share what you’ll be doing this Memorial Day and any special food traditions in your family.
My stepdaughter and granddaughter will be visiting. Among other things, we’ll be having a modest feast–hot dogs, hamburgers, several sorts of salads, fruit, various sorts of chips and dip, ice-cream and cake, (that pretzel, strawberry, Cool Whip thingy I mentioned above) and some healthy and not-so-healthy beverages (no Kool-Aid on the menu, though).
A blessed Memorial Day weekend to you and yours. I remember. And I am truly thankful for those who’ve gone before and those who serve today.