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Memorial Day and Graduation Day

05/27/2014 @ 7:45am

Having Graduation Day and Memorial Day in such close proximity has the potential to be a little odd.  It can lead to a pretty emotional weekend.

This year we only have four graduation parties to attend. It goes in streaks for us, but as we grow older, we know fewer and fewer of the kids in high school, a situation that has both pros and cons. It does help the budget considerably to have fewer gift envelopes to stuff. On the other hand, I’m well under my yearly quota of cake and pulled pork sandwiches.

The graduates are all nice kids, excited by what they’ve accomplished and, for all intents and purposes, looking forward to what’s coming next. I’m not often asked to give graduation speeches. That’s just as well, because what I’m always tempted to say is, “Don’t get too wound up. This isn’t that big a deal. It’s actually only the beginning of your education, which with luck will last the rest of your life, and tomorrow morning when you come down for breakfast, your folks are going to hand you a menu, complete with prices. Deal with it.”

That may sound a little cranky, but I think that’s because now we’ve added the emotions of Memorial Day, when we think about people for whom high school graduation was the high point of their lives, because they didn’t have very much time left to live.  

That’s something the war movies always get wrong. Just once I’d like to see a war movie where all the actors were actually 18 or 19 years old, and their officer, the guy they call “The Old Man,” is 24.  

I’ve given a number of Memorial Day speeches. I’m always panic stricken – it’s such an honor and such a responsibility. This year went well. I spoke in a town where my mother had been a teacher for about a quarter of a century, which meant I was tapping into a significant reservoir of good will, so the crowd was very receptive.

After the speech and the prayers and the Cub Scouts waving flags and the Girl Stater’s essay, after the band played, and the adjutant read the names of deceased veterans (as a friend once told me, “Nobody does Memorial Day as well as a small town”), we all trooped down to raise the flag, hear the firing squad, and stand at attention as a young man played “Taps.”   

If you can stand in a town square on a lovely May morning, surrounded by friends and neighbors, a few Cub Scouts with uniforms in serious disarray, aging men in neatly pressed uniforms clutching their rifles, and listen to a kid playing “Taps” and not be moved to tears, you’re probably not paying attention.

My wife and I shook a few hands, greeted some folks, and wandered through five cemeteries in the county on our way home. In theory, we were paying our respects at the graves of relatives, but it takes a little longer in each place every year, as the number of friends laid to rest grows larger.

We finally rambled home and changed out of our good clothes. My wife started mowing the lawn while I took the pickup and a few grandchildren to the cemetery to pick up flowers and take pictures of them next to the graves of their great-great-great-grandparents.

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