A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


By Joseph Walker

It would be stretching things to suggest that Memorial Day was Dadís favorite holiday.

Truth be told, he was actually more of a Thanksgiving man.That was a day that called for lots of eating, shooting half-court set shots with the boys and giving long-winded prayers Ė all specialties of the house as far as Dad was concerned.

But Memorial Day also suited his particular style and talents.He was good at remembering the right flowers for all of the family graves we had to visit.He was good at remembering where all of those graves were Ė most of the time.He was good at remembering the distant aunts and uncles and cousins we bumped into at the various cemeteries that we visited.He even remembered most of their names.

Mostly, he was good at remembering.He was the only member of his family who lived close to the family grave sites at the time, and he took his Memorial Day responsibilities to them all Ė the living and the dead Ė seriously.It was a priority, one that he never forget until . . . well, it is one of the sad ironies of life that he eventually succumbed to a disease that made him forget all the stuff he used to be so good at remembering.

Of course, I was oblivious to such ironies when I was young.All I knew is that I was crammed into the back seat of our Impala with my moody sisters and a bunch of smelly irises and lilacs (or was that moody irises and lilacs and smelly sisters?) while we drove from cemetery to cemetery, and that it would eventually lead to me getting kissed, pinched and patted by a bunch of great-aunts who smelled more like lilacs than the lilacs did themselves.

I donít remember a lot of emotion from Dad on Memorial Day Ė no tears, no sniffles, no trembling lower lips.But there was profound respect and a deep and abiding sense of honor in Dadís voice as he talked about his mother, his brother Max (who died at age 14, which sort of gave me the creeps Ė until I was 15), his other brother Sam, his grandparents and an assortment of dearly departed aunts, uncles and cousins.

The most reverential moments of our traditional Memorial Day observance usually came as we placed flowers around the grave of great-great-Grandfather Henson.This became almost ceremonial, as we carefully decorated the tall, stately marker that notes Hensonís final resting place near great-great-Grandma Elizabeth Ann.Dad always talked about Hensonís life as a pioneer of the state in which we lived, and as the first mayor of the city in which he is buried.Almost everything I know about Henson I learned while decorating his grave on Memorial Day.

By the time we emptied the Impala of irises and lilacs Dad had pretty much covered the entire history of the Walker family from the mid-1800s until 1960, when his mother died.Sometimes we spent a little time on Momís side of the family, but her people were buried in a cemetery way off in the other direction and Dad didnít remember how to get to their graves.The fact is, the Walkers were the Main Memorial Day Event for our family.The Arrowsmiths were the second feature you stayed around for if you werenít too tired.

And that was OK with Mom Ė which, if you knew my darling-but-opinionated mother, is something of a Memorial Day miracle in and of itself.

Last year was the first Memorial Day since Dad died, and to be honest, my heart wasnít really into the spirit of the day.But this year Iím ready.Iíve picked out some irises and lilacs and a few potted mums, and Iím ready to make the rounds.Iím ready to be kissed, pinched and patted, if it comes to that.And Iím ready to teach my history to my children while we decorate.

But mostly Ė finally Ė Iím ready to remember.

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ó © Joseph Walker

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