I know this is Memorial Day weekend. Many people are grilling out, others are celebrating the memories of those who died in service to our country, and some are doing both. For me, I’m remembering my dad. He was in the service, but he died years after he was out of the Navy. He died when I was ten. A disease I didn’t understand took him before I got to know him well. Cancer doesn’t discriminate.
The reason I think of my dad this Memorial Day weekend is because I do have memories of him. As my daughters were handed paper poppies while we were out shopping, it immediately brought back memories of the paper poppies that I remember around my house when I was younger. I know at the time I didn’t know what they meant, but I remember my dad giving me some to play with, and I remember he’d twist the floral wire into a loop and hang them at odd places around the house, usually from nails on the wall that housed other things, such as calendars, or on the knob of “dad’s cupboard” behind his spot at the kitchen table where he spent most of his days.
My Memorial Day memories go beyond the short period of time I had with my Dad. The years I spent living at home, I remember going out to the cemeteries where many of our family members, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and even family friends were laid to rest. We always spent this time remembering those we loved, reliving memories, placing flowers on their headstones and visiting other’s who had passed over the years. This was my Memorial Day. It was a time to remember all who died, not just the service members.
Now that I’m older and my husband is in the military, I understand the meaning of Memorial Day and those little poppies much better. I do spend quite a bit of time remembering those service members who gave their life fighting for my freedom. As an extremely emotional individual, I tear up as I read articles and see images flood my social media feeds about those who have lost love ones to war. However, there is and always will be a part of me that remembers my dad on this day. I spent all of my childhood and early adult years visiting him and others on this day. It’s a family tradition, and a day that is wired in my brain to have me remember him, though I do think of him more often than once a year.
I’m saddened that my children will never get to know my dad the way I knew him. Now that they’re getting older they ask more questions and they are starting to learn about him through the limited stories I have to offer them. Sadly, I do not have pictures of my dad. There are some that exist, I just don’t own them, so my girls haven’t had the chance to see what he looked like. I love watching the kids do things with their dad that I remember doing with my dad, and it provides the perfect setting for a conversation about grandpa. Since I don’t have the photographs to share, I can share the memories. This is one of the ways I can help them get to know him.
For some reason my bike growing up was a big memory for me about my dad. I know many people have the story of dad teaching them to ride their bike, much like my husband is teaching the kids how to ride their bikes. Me, not so much. I don’t remember learning to ride a bike. I do remember my first bike. Well, it’s the first bike I remember, and I think it was the first one I could call my own. I wasn’t the first owner though. Like many kids, hand-me-downs are a given. My hand-me-downs were a bit different because all of my siblings were about 20 years older than me, give or take a few years. As a child of the 80’s, my first hand-me-down bike was a bike from the 60’s. Paint was chipping off, it had a dingy looking banana seat and I loved it. My dad grabbed a can of spray paint to spruce it up. I wanted pink. He wanted green, his favorite color. He won. The bike was painted green, and I had to live with it. I grew to love that bike, green color, banana seat and all, but that’s not where the bike memories end.
There was one day, I don’t remember much about that day other than it was probably summer and my dad was going to walk down the block to visit the neighbors. I was riding my bike around him as he started off across the lawn. I remember he gave me a strange look and asked to see my bike. I asked why, and he said he wanted to check something. Sure enough, as soon as I hopped off, he hopped on and started down the street with me chasing him demanding my bike back.
I don’t know why those memories stick with me out of all the memories I could have about my dad, but they do. It’s interesting the types of memories our brain decides to file for easy access.
Another memory I have of my dad is popcorn. Anyone who really knew my dad would be nodding their head in agreement at this point. His favorite snack was popcorn. He had a garden, which was mostly for the cucumbers he sold, but he still planted other things, popcorn was one of them. He grew it, dried it and saved it every year. We had bags of dried popcorn kernels, and it didn’t go to waste. My dad popped popcorn every day. He had his own big bowl he’d fill up then sprinkle some seasoned salt on it. When that bowl got low, he’d pop some more. We don’t eat a lot of popcorn around here, but we do pop our own popcorn with the air popper, we experiment with seasonings and we talk about grandpa and how much he loved popcorn.
Finally cucumbers. This is one of the biggest memories I have of my dad. He was a cucumber farmer. I remember helping him hand plant every seed with a little hand pushed seed planter. I remember going “up on the hill” where the cucumber field was to check on the cucumbers and make sure they were watered, though I don’t remember how we watered them. I know we spent a lot of hot days up there. My dad taught me how to watch the yellow flowers and watch them grow into cucumbers, then how to pick the perfect sized cucumbers to pick. We hand picked them all, loaded them into the pick up and drove them a couple hours away to another town where they were sold and I have no idea what happened to them after that. I just remember dad was a cucumber farmer and for a few of those years I got to help him out in the summers.
These are just a few of the memories I’ve shared with my girls. Now that I’m older, green is one of my favorite colors and the kids know this. My kids have an interest in the piano, though I don’t let them play on it as often as I should. My dad would nap on the couch and listen to me play the piano for him, even though I made up every tune. For him he said it was relaxing. When my dad was sick and I didn’t understand what was happening, he would bring me back wild flowers after his visits to the doctor two hours away.
This Memorial Day I remember all of those who died for my freedoms, and I remember my dad. Popcorn lover, bicycle thief, cucumber farmer and so many more things.