We cope with the first day of summer; but not astronomically speaking. Swimming pools are officially open and it’s okay to wear white. Not because I said so.
Being from the Haspel hot-seat of the world, we New Orleanians long ago decided seersucker jackets never seasonally went out of style. Donning linen was only slightly “iffier” when the demanding fabric came only in bleached or white. The entirely brown, black, green dyes make it very respectable in the hot days to follow.
Of course, I haven’t lived there since departing for the Army in time to snare a World War II victory medal.
The next three Fourth of July celebrations, after Holy Cross boarding school, I spent in bloody and fractured Europe. A Special Services effort to warm the patriotic cockles of our GI hearts went awry every time. Fireworks fizzled in our awareness of being removed from our mothers and motherland. The Army-operated clubs offered lemonade and hot dogs. As for Labor Day that officially closes summer, we could not explain even to ourselves what the time-off really meant.
Although stationed in the nation that first gave the world specific hours to work and time to be spent in pleasant remembrances, we couldn’t cotton up to the reason for the holiday, except swim suits were folded away. Prince Otto von Bismarck introduced the “socialist” idea of paid holidays and vacations, not as you may have heard – Vladimir Lenin.
The Iron Chancellor pushed education in the Germanys as a means to render the workers more productive, in factories and battlefields; his enforcement of the heretical proposition that men and women would be more efficient if allowed vacations. Years before the U.S. Social Security plan, the prince made retirement not only possible, but preferable. In other words, millions of Americans plan summer jaunts because of the Prussian dictator.
Memorial Day had no Old World connections, according to history; it was home-grown, to remember (Memorial), initially, the dead lost in the Civil War.
Across the former Southern confederacy, in various months, families and individuals turn up in cemeteries; it was the way of honoring their grandfathers, husbands, parents, children and brothers killed in gray uniforms. At this moment the only state that marks the federal holiday, Virginia, shutters offices and ceases most governmental services and procedures. The tradition appears poised to follow the rebels’ Bonnie Blue flag into retirement.
As a child, I recall lining up along Canal Street; there were few cries of commercially selling out. I remember standing on hot, hot pavements in my Keds sneakers. As the Thirties advanced, so did Hitler’s powers. My last civilian Memorial Day found me in Little Rock’s Missouri Pacific train terminus: no proud banners or brave arms for me.
By the time post-war Memorial Day sellers began to attract millions and millions, I was back in this country. Graves and headstones were covered with flowers: roses preferred. And most people, especially children, did not know what they celebrated. The Independence Day festivities were right on target; although the latter day celebrations looked pulled out the sky, in many cases.
The U.S. “natives” remain contented to have the holiday celebrations and sales prices in stores. The end of August now signals that winter weather is dead, but not entirely forgotten. Outside my front door, on North Market Street, flags were attached to parking meters several days ago. They will be mostly disappeared by noon, if past performances by the city continue.
My Memorial and Veterans Days’ jacket with the two rows of ribbons, topped by another, will not be worn this year; nor do I expect, ever again. Even present day men and women troops do not know what the medals stand for; six years and eleven, forty months overseas are no answers.
My father, Sgt. Roy Neal Meachum Sr., rests in the Alexandria (Louisiana) National Military Cemetery, too far for bringing roses: besides, I was notified his marker and grave were displaced by those recently died. I’m not sure where to find him.
Father lives on in my memory. You can see his face on my entry wall family photos; he’s the one with thick hair parted high up, close to the high crown and the becoming dimples.