24 May 2007

Memorial Day

Full disclosure: I am NOT now and will never be a fan of the newspaper USA Today. When I'm traveling and hotels or airlines give away free copies, I don't even bother to glance at it. It is just too close to tabloids for me, a dumbed down version of the national news with far too much focus on superficial stuff. If I want gossip, I'll check the gossip sites I've got in my links list. If I want news, I'll pick up the NY Times or the Wall Street Journal. Don't even get me started on the horrible rag that is my hometown paper, a bare few steps above the USA Today.

That said, yesterday I was waiting for my number to be called at what used to be my favorite lunch spot, where I'd ordered a sandwich and a cup of soup, to go. Really hard to make, right? Right. Anyway. I waited nearly 40 minutes, and out of desperation and boredom, so I didn't start screaming at the staff, I picked up their copy of USA Today and paged through it. This article caught my eye, providing inspiration for a post. Unfortunately, you've got to spend money to get the full version of the article, so allow me to sum up what the author says at the end. He's grateful for Memorial Day because it gives us the opportunity to remember those who are no longer with us. Me too.

I didn't mark the anniversary of my cousin J's death this year with a post about her, not wanting to dwell on her passing, but instead trying to just remember good things about her and her life the week that marked two years since we lost her. And I still don't want to get maudlin about her, were she alive she'd be telling me to "get a fucking grip." (Really. Not one to sugar-coat, our J!)

I've always thought of Memorial Day as more of a patriotic thing, that we were supposed to just think about the service men and women who died for the good ole US of A, but I'm going to ignore that from this year on. Yes, recognize those who died for the freedoms that we enjoy, but also remember those who you loved who aren't here anymore, and remember how fleeting and precious life is.

I want to make a list of those that I miss dreadfully, when they died and who they were to me, but that would be entirely too depressing. So instead I want to talk about what each person taught me, hoping that it will be inspiring rather than a downer.

Grandpa L, not really related to me, but the father of my dad's best friend, my 'surrogate grandpa'; taught me that friends are the family you choose for yourself. He was a big influence on me, treating my sisters and I as little different than his own grandkids. And he taught me that popping bubble wrap is one of life's greatest simple pleasures. He was into mail-order stuff big time, in the days before computers, and he would order stuff from catalogs, send it back, order other things...there was a closet in his office which held mail supplies, from boxes to mailing tape, and he never hesitated to allow my sisters and I to pull out his entire stock of bubble wrap and stomp on it. Try it sometime as a stress reliever.

Grandma S, my mother's mum. A love of making homemade strawberry jam, canning and preserving. Picking strawberries with her and Grandpa S are some of my fondest very early memories. She was a quilter, and some of my love of the domestic arts are from her.

Grandpa S., my mother's dad. He did this hilarious little self-deprecating monologue all the time, about who was the boss in his household, which taught me that you should always be able to laugh at yourself. A vital and important lesson, to be sure.

Grandpa B., my dad's dad. One of the lessons he helped to teach me was the importance of work first, play later. The family spent some time in Florida when I was in second grade, which caused me to miss some school. I did the schoolwork for each day early in the morning with him watching, and then we would ride bikes to the beach as a treat when I was done. No homework, no bike ride.

Great Auntie G and Great Uncle R, on my mum's side of the family. I can still hear Aunt G's laugh, years and years after her death, a great, booming, very not girl-y ha HA ha ha HA, which if you heard it in a store and didn't even see her, you'd know she was there, just from that laugh. She taught me to find humor in almost any situation. Uncle R., a gentle, steady presence, proud of our accomplishments and supportive of our endeavors, his death was my first lesson in mortality. His quiet support was a lesson in how to 'be there' when someone needed you.

"Uncle" L, again no relation, but the father of a very close friend in Sweden. He spoke no English whatsoever, and my first week in Sweden, he was looking at coffee table books I had brought to my host family about America and Ohio. I could see his interest, and sat down beside him and proceeded to tell him, in English, all about the places I'd been in each book, and pointed out pictures of my hometown in the Ohio book. I didn't find out until WEEKS later that he spoke not one word of English. (Dope-slap!!) He taught me that nodding and smiling will get you by sometimes, but also that sometimes keeping your mouth shut and not embarrassing someone is one of the greatest gifts you can give them.

And J, last but not least. I learned so much from her about motherhood, watching her with her children, after having known her as a rebellious and, frankly, difficult child and teen herself, was an amazing and beautiful thing. Her no-holds-barred, tell-it-like-it-is style, inherited from her mother, inspired me as well. You got the unvarnished truth from her, like it or not. I admire that still, wishing I could be that ballsy sometimes.

Isn't it interesting, the varied and diverse things that the people who touch our lives, in ways great and small, teach us?

1 comment:

MotherMe said...

And then there are also the people still with us, who we learn so much from every day, yet we don't seem to acknowledge them until after they, too, have passed on....

(counting you in that list!)