Somebody wished me a “Happy Memorial Day” yesterday. I was sort of shocked for a moment. Happy Memorial Day? Happy? I wanted to say, “You daft motherfucker, do you even know what the fuck Memorial Day is about? It’s about dead fucking Marines and soldiers and sailors and airmen.” I wanted to say that, but I didn’t. I just nodded. Because for him, Memorial Day isn’t about the dead; it’s about burgers and potato salad and a day off work.
I get that. I really do. But I’m maybe a tad touchier than usual this Memorial Day weekend. For years I’ve had a dysfunctional relationship with the holiday. I respect the concept of honoring those who’ve died in uniform, and those who’ve worn the uniform, but I spurn the reality of it, as represented by folks who say “Happy Memorial Day.” But this year is worse than usual.
This year we have a president who is a tacky, self-aggrandizing, narcissist who was elected with the aid of a hostile foreign nation, and who treats the men and women in uniform as little more than props. Yes, we had him last year as well, but this year it’s increasingly clear that Comrade Trump is a threat to the very democracy that the men and women in uniform swore an oath to defend.
Also this year — a couple of days ago — I visited my brother’s grave at the veteran’s cemetery. Normally I don’t do that. I’ve never felt any need to visit his grave. And in fact, I didn’t feel any real need this year. But there I was, standing in front of his gravestone, and it affected me a lot more than I thought it would. He’s been dead for almost eight years now. I thought I was accustomed to it. I think of him fairly often. Every time I go morel hunting, he’s in my thoughts. Every time I go to Granny’s to get ice cream, I think of him. I have his coat hanging in my closet and his cap on my hat stand. I think of him, but I never get weepy about it. I miss him, but I never get choked up about it. I mean, he’s dead and gone, and that’s what happens to everybody. NBD and all that.
But it got to me. All those dead service members, all those graves, a president who has no concept of honor or duty, my brother. Huge fucking lump in my throat. It was hard to speak. I stood there, thinking about everybody in my family who’d put on a uniform, thinking about how everybody in that cemetery had offered up a part of themselves, and lawdy, it gutted me.
I left a little plastic frog on the brother’s grave — not so much for Jesse Eugene, but for my oldest brother, Roger Lee, who also served. I knew he’d get a grin out of it.
At any rate, this year I’m a tad more prickly about Memorial Day. But if the weather permits, I’ll grill out this weekend and spend time with family and have a burger and potato salad just like everybody else. And if folks wish me a happy Memorial Day, I’ll nod and be polite — but the truth is some part of me will be thinking, “You daft motherfucker…”