Memory Bin

Our garbage collection here is once a week, on Monday mornings. The trucks come quite early, usually before 7 am, lumbering down the street, seizing the standardized bins with the automatic claws.

We go running early, so we usually drag our bin out on Monday morning. But many of our neighbors do this on Sunday, often early in the afternoon. It’s an unmistakable rumble, the sound of the two-wheeled plastic bin being dragged up a long gravel driveway. Sound carries here. Despite the distances between houses, we can hear the grinding drag from the next street over. Some people even put their bins out on Saturday, just to be sure.

Our immediate next-door neighbor puts his out on Sunday before noon. He’s a vague kind of guy who may have done a little bit too much acid in his younger days. It might be a big remembering thing for him, to get that bin out there. So, much so, that he put his bin out yesterday. So did our neighbor on the other side.

“There won’t be garbage collection tomorrow, will there?” I asked David.

“I wouldn’t think so since it’s a national holiday.”

And yet, there were the sprinkles of garbage bins dutifully drug out to the road. This morning I peeked in one to ascertain that, indeed, it had not been emptied.

“For some of these people,” David said, “I think garbage collection day is the only thing that distinguishes Monday from the rest of the week.”

I can see that. Our neighborhood is full of artists and retirees. Week days, weekends, holidays – there’s no real distinction if you’re not working a typical corporate work week. Remembering something like when to put out the garbage can take on great significance.

I’ll probably hit 20,000 hits on my blog today. I’m at 19,989 right now. It’s kind of like watching for the car odometer to roll over to a round number. You watch for days and even weeks, reminding yourself to look. I almost always forget at the pertinent time. I’m sure that will happen with this. The next time I look, the numbers will have rolled over. It’s just kind of nifty, though, nothing very important.

A lot of people stress the importance of remembering. Today is a day for remembering, the memorial. I’ve seen a number of messages on the social networks reminding people that today is to honor those fallen in service, not active duty personnel, because there’s other days for them. Keep to the correct day for the correct observance seems to be the message.

So today is the day I’m instructed to remember my father, the man who died in the fiery wreckage of his F-4 fighter jet when I was three years old.

I’ve written about this before, so forgive me those of you who might grow tired of it. My father’s death is one of the watershed events of my life, of my mother’s life. It changed the course of what happened after, of who we grew up to be. We observe the quiet anniversaries of his life throughout the year, his birthday, their wedding anniversary, the day he died. We don’t do anything; we just remember.

We can’t not remember him.

So, though I’m writing about it on this day, Memorial Day isn’t special for me. I don’t care at all who gets thanked or remembered today. I’m not shuffling my memories and my grief out to the curb, so it can be collected on time.

I plan to spend some time in the sun, enjoying the life I know my dad would have wanted me to have.

In Memoriam, Ad Infinitum

It seems like most of the pundits like to spend a moment on Memorial Day talking about returning meaning to the day.

Actually, it seems like EVERY holiday there has to be someone talking about returning meaning to the day. As if there’s something wrong with enjoying a day off and spending it in hedonistic ways.

I’m thinking this is an American thing. Since I’m so international now. But last Monday was Victoria Day in, well, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. (I have to specify this now because you WOULD NOT believe how many people hear “Columbia” and right away think of South America.) However, if you’re thinking that Victoria Day is to Victoria what Bailey Days is to Bailey, Colorado, you’re not thinking British enough. They’re celebrating the queen. Which seems to involve having a parade and hanging out. There were no articles in the paper musing over the true meaning of the day, or asking people to devote thought at an arranged time:

As Memorial Day approaches, it is time to pause and consider the true meaning of this holiday. Memorial Day represents one day of national awareness and reverence, honoring those Americans who died while defending our Nation and its values. While we should honor these heroes every day for the profound contribution they have made to securing our Nation’s freedom, we should honor them especially on Memorial Day.

That was from an end-of-days executive order from President Clinton. It’s a patriotic thing. Everyone agrees that it’s wonderful to salute and revere our soldiers. Everyone can feel good about saying nice words, giving a toast, devoting a thought. On this one day. Well besides Veterans Day. And Independance Day. And Flag Day. Actually, there are fully seven military holidays.

Memorial Day means nothing to me. My dad was a US Air Force fighter pilot who died in the line of duty when I was three years old. I went through a brief spell when I was a teenager, when I was swept up in the holiday. I suggested to my mom that we drive down to the cemetary at the academy in Colorado Springs to decorate his grave on Memorial Day.

“Why?” she asked me. “Do you think he’s there?”

No. No, I didn’t. She said we could go, but that she didn’t think he was there either, amidst those rows of stark white identical stones. It wouldn’t be for him that we were going. It’s something to think about, how much the dead care about their graves and what the living do with them. Restoring the “meaning” of a holiday like Memorial Day is generating a particular show for the living.

It’s interesting to me that Memorial Day is the modern version of Decoration Day, which was the day that graves were decorated. Official versions of this day were acknowledged by various states following the Civil War. Unofficially, this puts me in mind of rituals like the Day of the Dead. These are less patriotic and sanitized and speak more towards the pagan connection to visitations from the dead. The Day of the Dead is ascribed to Mexican and Latino practices, but this kind of ritual has been prevalent for ages in the Celtic and Roman cultures also. For example:

On Palm Sunday, in several villages in South Wales, a custom prevails of cleaning the grave-stones of departed friends and acquaintances, andornamenting them with flowers, &c. On the Saturday preceding, a troop ofservant girls go to the churchyard with pails and brushes, to renovatethe various mementos of affection, clean the letters, and take awaythe weeds. The next morning their young mistresses attend,with thegracefulness of innocence in their countenances, and the roses of healthand beauty blooming on their cheeks. According to their fancy, and according to the state of the season, they place on the stonessnow-drops, crocuses, lilies of the valley, and roses.

Nothing about the military dead there.

I don’t mind so much the effort to restore meaning. What I mind is the modification of meaning to serve political ends. So, if you pause today, at the recommended time or no, to reflect upon the meaning of this day, make it your own.