Memorial Day

When I was a kid, growing up, my parents loaded the trunk of our car with pots of geraniums and we went to plant one at every grave at every cemetery a close relative was buried at. It took most of the day, since a few were in small towns close by instead of in town,, and while my dad dug holes for my mom to pl;ace the geraniums in, my sister and I would run around the cemetery, chasing each other and having fun. When the trunk was empty and every grave was decorated, then we’d head downtown to Coney Island to eat hot dogs for supper. I can’t say it was one of my favorite days. It got pretty long after a while. But Mom and Dad were so happy with what they’d done, and we got to eat out (which we hardly ever got to do), so it was a meaningful day that ended well.

Once I grew up and got married, HH and I didn’t decorate graves for Memorial Day. But we bought an old bungalow on a street that our community uses for their Memorial Day parade. Cop cars and fire trucks line up and turn on their sirens to start off the celebration at nine a.m. You can’t sleep through the noise. (Though one time I tried. I had the flu and was miserable and cussed the parade more than it deserved). People line the sidewalks with lawn chairs, laughing and calling to each other. Two school marching bands are interspersed between floats, vintage cars, tractors, and horses. They make their way down the street, and people throw candy to the kids watching on the sidelines. Neighbors wave at each other and stop to talk once the parade is finished. And we end up with lots of small American flags to line the walk to our front porch.

For a long time, I didn’t value any of it. I enjoyed seeing people at the parade, but grumbled that I couldn’t sleep in. I wasn’t fond of visiting graves. After all, nobody’s there, just a plot of earth and someone’s remains in a box or urn. But since I’ve gotten older, I like cemeteries–quiet places that hold memories. They even make me think about people I’ve never met. I read dates, like 1873-1875 and think about a small child who had a short life. Sometimes, five or six people in a family die near the same time, and I imagine there was a disease. I read the words “Loving mother” or “Taken Too Soon” and conjure stories and images to go with them. And I see the military gravestones of soldiers and think about which war they died in. (In old cemeteries, there are many, many of them).

I knew that Memorial Day was important to my parents, but I never fully understood why. Now, I do. I still don’t decorate graves, but now I visit them. And they help me see myself as part of a long line of history and people. And that feels good. I understand why people are interested in genealogy these days. It’s nice to feel that you’re part of something. It’s nice to know your roots. They help you understand yourself a bit better.

However you celebrate (or don’t celebrate) Memorial Day, I hope you have a nice one. Family, picnics, grilling out, relaxing…whatever. Enjoy the last day of May. And have a great June!

Mystery Musings

My thoughts are muddled and cobbled together this Monday.  As so often happens to me, I’ve ended up with more questions than answers, and they’re all sort of blending together, and I’m letting them.  I finished reading In The Market for Murder by T.E. Kinsey last night.  On the cover, there’s a lady in a long coat with a maid in a long black dress and white apron.  I’ve read so many Regency mysteries and romances lately that my mind went right to that period of history.  But I was wrong.  The first book in the series takes place in 1908, and this–the second book–is shortly after.  For whatever reason, that date caught me off guard.  Lady Hardcastle and her husband were spies, and when her husband was killed, she retired to the English countryside with her maid–who traveled with her before she made it safely home.  The maid knows martial arts, and both ladies are quite capable of taking care of themselves.  But men constantly worry about their delicate sensibilities.

For me, the time period in this book feels a lot like the social niceties of the Regencies and Lady Darby mysteries that I read.  Except in this book, Lady Hardcastle decides to buy an automobile.  And that scene, in itself, made for an amusing read.  The salesman couldn’t fathom a woman buying a car by herself, with no husband, no chauffeur, and no mechanic.

For some reason, I read that scene and it triggered thoughts about my grandmother–how many changes she saw in her lifetime.  She grew up on a farm and lived through World War I.  When the men came home from fighting, she went to barn dances by horse and buggy.  She met and married my grandfather sometime during the Roaring Twenties.  Men whistled at her legs when she wore her flapper dresses, and she cut her hair in a bob.  Grandpa became a truck driver, and they moved to Chicago.  A gangster tried to hire him to run alcohol from Canada to a bar, but Grandpa turned him down.  One of his friends took the job and was shot dead on one of his trips.  Then came the Great Depression, and they lost everything, including their home.  They had to move back to live in a small worker’s shack near her mom.  And then came World War II and both of her sons were drafted.  Thankfully, both of them returned.

All of those memories, along with the books I’ve read lately, made me think about war and wars since today’s Memorial Day.  My husband put out the flag on our front porch.  Usually, a small neighborhood parade goes down our street, so loud you can’t sleep through it even if you wanted to.  Which we don’t.  We like seeing our neighbors and former neighbors who often return to see the high school band, an old train engine changed over to celebrate veterans, and all of the other groups that participate in the parade.  We visit on the side of the street and people marching by throw candy to the kids.  We linger for a while once it’s over, and then we all retreat to our homes and whatever our plans are for the day.  But not this year.  Covid19 put a stop to the celebration.  Maybe it will return next year.  Maybe not.  Things have changed.

But we’ll always honor the men and women who served our country and lost their lives to protect us and our freedom.  And that led me to think about the nature of war.  It’s always been with us.  All you have to do is read the history books we were taught growing up.  We jump from the The French and Indian War to the Revolution to the War of 1812 and so on.  History is full of wars.  Every country fought them, all the way back to the Romans, the Egyptians, even the cavemen.  And wars changed mindsets and attitudes.  They brought back new ideas and products.  But at such a high cost.  Are we forever destined to fight them?  Maybe.  There’s always someone who wants to dominate, plunder, or subjugate.  Maybe it’s part of the human condition.

When I was young and idealistic, and wondered if we’d ever get tired of wars, I read The Devil and the Good Lord by Jean-Paul Sartre.  And it made me think that wars will always be with us, that if you’re too idealistic, you’re vulnerable.  But there will always be strong, honorable people who do the right thing, who respect one another.  And I can’t help but hope that there will always be more of them than angry, disgruntled people who are willing to trample their fellow man to get what they want.

See?  I warned you that my mind was rambling today.  And I might be able to add up clues to solve mysteries, but I can’t begin to fathom the mystery of Destiny or mankind.  I hope you had a wonderful three-day weekend, and happy Memorial Day.


More Memories Than Usual

My grandson graduated from high school on Friday, May 25th, and on Saturday, we had an Open House to celebrate the event.  John’s brother flew in from Oakland, California on Tuesday, so that we could visit and enjoy ourselves before things got too busy.  Our daughter, Robyn, and her husband, Scott, drove up from Florida (they live near Clearwater Beach) on Thursday.   My daughter, Holly, and her two boys live with us, so our cozy bungalow bulged at the seams,  full of people, and a magical thing happened.  Kids who’d grown up in the houses behind us or across the street or around the corner showed up to join in.  And I found our house filled with laughter and memories.

I love kids.  Always have.  My sister, Mary, is 12 years younger than I am, and I think it started with her.  My parents looked shell shocked when they got the news there was an unexpected surprise on the way, but they quickly looked forward to having a baby.  I was thrilled.  My sister, Patty, and I are exactly ten months apart.  Cohorts in crime.  But Mary was someone to read stories to, to drag to the ice cream parlor, and to play with.  So when it came time to choose a career, I went for elementary education.

I taught for six years before I had my daughters.  I’m sort of a nerdy brain, and lots of professors tried to talk me out of “wasting my talent” on teaching reading and arithmetic.  But my question to them was, “If you don’t have dedicated teachers in first and second grade, what kind of students do you think you’ll get by the time they reach you?”  Teaching was a lot of hard work, but it was every bit as fulfilling as I thought it would be.  I meant to go back to it once Robyn started first grade, but the rules changed while I stayed home with my girls.  A Master’s Degree became a death sentence to my career.  No one would hire a teacher with a Master’s because they had to pay us more money.  So I stayed home, and Life had other plans for me.  John’s father got sick and died.  His mother didn’t do well on her own.  My dad got blood cancer, and I took my turn sitting with him at the hospital in the afternoons.  And I filled my house with kids.

We became the “neighborhood house.”  We made our basement into a kid zone.  My husband built a craft table and kids hung paintings to dry on a clothesline that stretched across a side wall.  We mixed salt clay and used cookie cutters to make Christmas ornaments.  John and I laid indoor/outdoor carpet, perfect for roller skating, and bought fold-out seats for kids to stretch on while watching the TV down there.   One Halloween, the kids beheaded every Barbie doll in the house to hang from the basement rafters to make a haunted room.  We bought a dehydrator to dry fruits.  I baked after school snacks.  And we enjoyed.  The kids gave more to us than we ever gave to them.

If Holly’s boys needed something, growing up, one or another of those kids have been there to help.  Jerod took Ty to hunting school and Jason taught him how to fish.  Heidi and her husband, his godparents, faithfully contributed to sending him to St. Therese and Bishop Luers.  Nicky took Ty out to supper when he needed some “guy” talk.

When I put kids in my writing, like Reece’s step-brother and sister in Wolf’s Bane, a young son in the novel Empty Altars, or Thea’s cocky niece in Fabric of Life, I hope I make them as special as I think kids should be.  Because I’ve been lucky.  I have wonderful daughters.  Awesome grandsons.  But I have more.  I have wonderful neighborhood kids.  And it was great to see them at Ty’s Open House, because they’ve been a part of his life.  And mine.

My John was in the Vietnam War, and I usually think of soldiers when I watch the parade that marches past our house each year.  But this Monday, I had so much more to think about.  Floods of memories.  All of them good.