My father’s father died in World War One when my dad was six years old. I can still see the picture of them both that stood on top of our piano in my childhood home. It was in an old fashioned, gold toned frame partnered by one of my Great Grandmother on the other side. Tinted brown, it showed a handsome man in an army officer’s uniform wearing riding boots—he was in the Calvary, standing opposite a small boy in a sailor suit, saluting his father. It may have been the last picture ever taken of him. My grandmother never remarried but raised my father and his brother alone.
My father was a colorful character who dressed as he chose and did things the way he wanted. Although he didn’t care too much what others thought, he was in many ways a traditional person. Every Sunday he attended the Episcopal Church in the neighboring town where he had grown up, and where my grandmother had endowed a stained glass window dedicated to her late husband. On the rare occasions I attended it with him as a child, I would gaze up entranced at the light shining through the image of a knight in armor with a face that seemed to me to resemble the man I’d never met, surrounded with emblems symbolic of his life.
A square in the center of that town was dedicated to my grandfather. He was a decorated hero and had been awarded a medal posthumously. Each Memorial Day the parade of marchers would stop there and a member from the American Legion would place a wreath of Laurel leaves on the hook on the pole beneath the sign that bore his name. My grandmother and later my father would add a big bunch of red carnations. I can remember one year my father lifted me up so I could do it. Each year we went as a family for the ceremony.
My father also decorated the graves of two elderly friends who had come from England to live in our town. Their pink marble gravestones still stand out among the somber gray granite of the rest of the local cemetery. He had been fond of them and I remember his taking me to visit them when I was very small.
My father’s grave is in a family cemetery on Cape Cod where some of his ancestors lived and worked. It is too far for me to travel to easily. His headstone, a simple boulder with a brass plaque, was his unique choice for his grave. It stands out boldly among the more traditional gravestones of his ancestors and the other members of his family. He was an individualist to the end.
On this Memorial Day as always I honor my late father in my heart. When I donate to a charity I know he would have given to, when I pray in my own fashion for the good of others, as well as when I emulate his kind nature and unique sense of fashion, I am honoring his memory. I cannot place flowers on his grave nor can I tend it as I would if I lived nearby; I can honor his memory in my own way by how I live my life and carry on in the way he taught me to do.
Thinking about lilacs I remembered hearing a song with the words “Lilac Time” featured prominently in it. Looking it up on the Internet I found the full title Jeannine, I dream of Lilac Time, as well as an old recording of it to listen to. It brought back memories of my hearing it as a young child. What fun it was to listen again, courtesy of the Internet and whoever was kind enough to resurrect it. Seeing lilac,s like hearing the song, brings back a host of memories.
Stephen and I were driving to an appointment when I saw a lot of lilacs by the side of the road. They were so lovely I had to stop the car to look. What was even more wonderful was the fact that there were a several different varieties of lilacs in this particular collection. What I really wanted to do was get out of the car and pick some. However, I resisted the temptation and drove on before their lure grew too strong for my will power.
I have many memories involving lilacs that go back to my childhood. There was a cluster of bushes in the back yard of the home where I grew up. There was a lattice fence in the midst of them. This helped to form an enclosed space on one side where I played house. There I made mud pies using water I would scrounge from the house and berries from bushes nearby. I also mixed up other concoctions to feed my doll family.
I kept my doll sized dishes, pots and pans and other implements on shelves made from boards stuck into the branches of the lilac bushes. These usually collapsed when it was windy. For some reason that escapes me now I didn’t mind too much; I’d just pick them up and rearrange things as best I could. I even wrote recipe booklets of my efforts, though the pages became illegible when they got soaked in rain.
There were a great many different kinds of lilac bushes next door, growing at the end of my great aunt Alice’s back yard. Her father had been a horticulturalist and most likely chose the various different varieties so that they would bloom for longer as well as present different colors in display. Some were double, some had an incredibly sweet smell. All of them were lovely. I used to pick them and bring them home for my mother to put into vases.
Each year I worried that there wouldn’t be any lilacs still blooming to honor veterans on Memorial Day. My family always went to the parade in Beverly Farms where there was a square dedicated to my father’s father who died in World War One. The children who marched at the end of it used to carry lilacs to throw in the water when the parade ended at West Beach as the band played “For those who perished on the sea. Seeing the lilacs as they bloom now I greet them with joy and with gratitude for their beauty both today and in my memory.
Text by Tasha, photo courtesy of Olga Stewart
Photo by Tasha Halpert
There are holes and rents in the tattered old flag
that hangs by the veteran’s door;
and the man within is tattered and torn
by time and tide and war.
The flag still waves, the man still walks
through increasingly difficult days
the man and his flag reflect each other
in myriad wondrous ways.
Alive to life, yet awaiting their turn
the man and his flag soldier on
both shabby, both proud, they march to a beat
that will cease to be when they’ve gone.
The flag and the man have served us well,
they are weary, yet serving still
in service of life, they make their way
as long as they can and will.