Many consider Memorial Day weekend to be the unofficial kick-off of summer. Some families camp and others go to the beach. When I was growing up, my parents made sure we always observed Memorial Day and I mean really observed Memorial Day—the day set aside each May to remember and honor those who gave their lives in service to our country.
We would begin observing Memorial Day a few days before the holiday, when members of my family (my grandmother and later my mother) would visit the cemetery, clean off the headstones and put flowers by the graves of loved ones. Members of the American Legion Auxiliary would place flags by the graves of veterans. Then, on Monday, we would attend a community breakfast at the VFW hall.
My step-dad, a Vietnam veteran, now volunteers as a cook at this breakfast. We would then watch a short parade and attend a ceremony that acknowledged the local heroes who sacrificed their lives for their country. There is a flag ceremony and floral wreaths and a bugler, usually from the high school band, who plays Taps.
Year after year, in the town of Clatskanie where I grew up, these traditions continue. I imagine towns and cities all over the United States have similar traditions. But some people can’t tell you the meaning of the day, and some confuse it with Labor Day, and others know it only as that three-day weekend in May. That’s a shame. Let’s remember what Memorial Day is and why it matters.
Erika Weisensee is a mom, a writer and a Native Oregonian.