Located on a small peninsula at the southern end of Lake Champlain, Fort Ticonderoga played a significant role in the formation of both countries of North America. With that in mind, I chose the American Flag flying over the old fort in honor of Memorial Day and as my Photo of the Week.
Whether we realize it or not, we make memories every day.
Memories don’t have to be from times long past. Often they are the moments at hand that we cherish the most. The older I get, the more emotive I am about the everyday happenings in my life.
Some memories come from yesterday. Others bubble up from the yesterdays of long, long ago. Some are innocent, innocuous ditties while others are serious, life-awakening treasures.
The odd thing about memories is how they so often just pop up at the strangest times and places. It’s why we need to be mindful of our constant memory making.
A spark down deep spontaneously ignites and I’m hiking a switchback alpine trail inhaling thin, clear mountain air. Another moment I’m in the delivery room of the local hospital watching my lovely wife deliver our second child. Soon our family doctor holds our newborn in front of us, exclaiming, “She’s a boy!”
In another flash, I’m a child myself, belly flopping on my Flexible Flyer through heavy, wet snow, shouts of glee echoing off the blanketed hillsides. I still have that magic sled.
I remember our daughter, only two at the time, ordering a male guest who tried to leave to sit back down. Her little tea party wasn’t ready to end. The man laughed and complied.
I remember racing to beat the rapidly rising tide to the beach in a shallow bay on Cape Cod. I’ve checked the tidal charts ever since. Then there was the warm summer’s evening I climbed the 897 steps in the Washington Monument in the nation’s capital. The walk back down wasn’t nearly as exciting for this 16-year-old.
Other less joyful memories we wish we could erase of course. But they, too, are indelibly etched in our minds, resurrected at the strangest, most inappropriate times. We cope with thoughts and prayers and tears, always moving forward in our too short lives.
Many of the memories my wife and I have mutually maintained involve travel with family and friends. I hadn’t been to Hocking Hills State Park since I was a teenager. I enjoyed a recent trip with friends as much as I did the one 50 years ago with family.
We strolled trails, discovered waterfalls, explored caves, and enjoyed every color of green imaginable. We wandered forests of towering trees with unfolding canopies and floors of thousands of feathery ferns.
The best memories don’t have to come from exotic, far away places either. They can be pretty close to home. And, too, some settings are made to be memorable.
Ideally, wedding ceremonies and the ensuing reception are memory machines. This celebration was especially so. We witnessed the wedding of our Amish neighbor’s daughter. It’s always an honor to be guests at such occasions.
We loved the focus on family and personal commitment. It was a happy yet solemn occasion. The combination of the simplicity and the significance of the marriage sealed the moment into my mind. There was no flowing wedding gown, no tuxedos, no flowery bouquets, only serious contemplation.
At the reception in the barn, the buzz of the lively conversations further seasoned the already scrumptious food passed up and down long, pleasantly decorated tables. It truly was a life celebration worth remembering.
Memories are potent reminders of life’s sweeping landscapes. What endearing memories will we make today that will be worthy of future recollecting?
Friends. Food. Memories. That’s a recipe to remember.
Some of my favorite memories come from sitting around a dinner table and sharing a meal with friends. With the passage of time, more often than not these are folks we seldom see on a regular basis for a multitude of reasons.
The excuses responsible for the separation are many and varied. A change of jobs, retirement, relocating, even a misunderstanding are just some of the possibilities.
Funny, isn’t it, how food enables meaningful conversation, neutralizes differences and bonds folks together. That’s true, of course, as long as I’m not cooking.
Food flavors the conversational flow. Perhaps it’s the other way around. The intentionality of reconnecting is easier if food is the centerpiece.
The type of meal is insignificant. It could be at a fancy restaurant, or someone’s home or a relaxing picnic. The setting and type don’t necessarily dictate the buoyant demeanor that prevails. The results are the same.
My late father was notorious for instigating such gatherings. He called it the “annual Frith picnic.” Frith was my mother’s maiden name, and anyone directly and remotely connected to the Frith family of my mother and her two sisters was invited.
Grandma Frith, the mother of the three daughters, was always the queen of the feast. Us grandkids revered her. Her homemade pies had nothing to do with that of course.
Dad kept the reunion going as long as he could. We usually met at his company-owned park, along with hundreds of other employees and their families.
We played card games, softball, volleyball and miniature golf. Mostly though, we grouped in semi-circles or sat at picnic tables quizzing one another. As the grandkids grew, they began to have children of their own.
Attendance and menu offerings expanded, and then lessened as family cells grew and spread across the country like the measles. I miss those get-togethers. I remember the intensity of the conversations though not the specifics. Shoot, I can’t remember what I had for lunch, and lunch was an hour ago.
I recall other smorgasbords as well.
I find sitting at the same table with people you once hired, shared offices, played on the same softball team or attended church with priceless. Between bites of seasoned casseroles and homemade desserts, we sit around like old grandparents and compare notes about our greatest blessings, our grandchildren. We do so because we are old grandparents, well most of us.
Stories long forgotten are retold as if they happened yesterday. We laugh to the point of tears. Quiet reflections often follow the expressive outpourings, sure signs that those times will never return nor be repeated. That may be for the best.
If heads turn our way in public settings, they are accompanied by understanding smiles without knowing the context or details. The other patrons acknowledge the genuine fellowship with polite nods.
I especially love extended opportunities where the conversing spontaneously spills out long past the clearing of the supper table. Raucous rounds of dominoes or card games ensue. They are new memories freshly made.
I find it even more delicious if newcomers slide into the circle of friends. They ask clarifying questions that generate new information, more laughter, a rainbow of language, and new friends.
In such situations, I have learned another necessary ingredient that spices the relational recipe. Silent listening is the honey that sweetens the relationships and keeps me asking for seconds.
You would be surprised what a few nice words can do for a person.
I recently received a hand-written letter in the mail from a friend I hadn’t seen for a long time. I had taught some of her children in school, and she reminisced about incidents that I had long forgotten.
I enjoyed her well-written, personal historical commentary that reflected on the rapid changes that occurred in the 1970s when her children were my students. Those were rough and tumble times with lots of social change occurring.
My friend reflected on how outspoken I was on some of those social issues, and how she had challenged me about sharing my opinions in class. I had no recollection of that.
When I came to the words in the letter, “You did well,” I was both honored and humbled. Here was a wonderful lady who had disagreed with my viewpoints (imagine that) and still took the time to thank me for my teaching.
The 1960 and 1970 eras were tumultuous times in our country to be sure. The Civil Right movement, the Vietnam War, the Kent State shootings, Watergate, skyrocketing oil prices, high inflation rates, and a presidential resignation were just some of the headlines of those days.
I hardly knew how to respond to my friend. After much thought, I sent a few lines of appreciation in a note card. I know they were inadequate. But I’m hoping we will have a chance to meet in the future to continue our “conversation.”
Her letter had a profound effect on me. I acknowledged in my note that I likely was too opinionated in the classroom, especially for elementary children. But the positive tone of her letter was beyond encouraging. It stirred me.
Those three words, “You did well,” charged me, urged me on. I knew I needed to share them in some equally positive way. Then I saw my chance. A teacher I had hired years ago was retiring. Given my schedule and the fact that school was about to end, I knew what I needed to do.
Since I was in the vicinity, I visited where he taught, knocked on the classroom door and strolled in. I wish you could have seen his smile. He was surprised and happy to see me. While his students worked on group projects, we chatted about old times and how much the education profession had changed since I had retired 14 years ago to begin my second career.
Between receiving the one friend’s letter and my visit with my retiring friend, I thought long and hard about the people who had positively influenced me in my life and careers. Just mentally listing their names brought back happy memories, some even during difficult times.
A hand-written letter from one friend and a visit with another served as bookends for volumes of memories, each one a special chapter in my life. Who has influenced you for the good? Who has inspired you? Have you told them how much you appreciated them and what they did for you?
The convergence of Memorial Day and the end of another school year for many across the country provides a unique opportunity. Besides placing flowers on the graves of lost loved ones, connect with someone who positively influenced you.
Whether by letter, phone call or over coffee, tell them, “You did well.” Just be ready for what happens next.
This Memorial Day will hold special significance for my four siblings and me. It will be the first that we will decorate both our father’s and mother’s gravesite.
Mom died April 23 at age 90. Dad passed away Dec. 21, 2009. He was 89.
The simple act of placing flowers at their graves will make it memorable. No matter their age, losing your parents is never easy, especially when they were parents that you loved a lifetime. Not everyone has that precious opportunity.
My brothers, sisters and I were very fortunate. Both Mom and Dad lived long, full and fulfilling lives. Through both their graciousness and their imperfections, they gave us many marvelous memories.
At the pinnacle of his professional engineering career, Dad’s life took an unexpected turn when my younger brother brought home an arrowhead that he had found on the school playground. Dad grew inquisitive. His desire to learn, something he instilled in all five of his children, grew intense.
From that initial find, Dad went on to develop an extensive artifact collection. He read, went to lectures, lead an archeology club, surface hunted, and dug his way to being a well-renowned amateur specialist on Native American culture. Of course, he dragged along several of his children to many of these events, especially walking field after field looking for the flinty points and stone tools.
Along with hunting and fishing, Dad’s archeological adventures consumed much of his retirement years. He gave lectures and was always a hit with school children.
Mom would often accompany Dad on his excursions. She would hunt for artifacts. Mostly though Mom would take along her easel, paints and brushes, find a nice scenic spot and sketch out the basics for what would become a vibrant watercolor.
Now and then, it would be the other way around. Dad would accompany Mom to an artists’ workshop, even to other states. While the instructor led his troupe in an all day art class, Dad would wander the countryside looking for likely spots to hunt arrowheads.
One time near Burnsville, N.C., Dad stopped at a farmhouse and asked permission to walk the farmer’s fields. Being the affable guy that he was, Dad quickly made friends. Before he could even set foot in the cornfield, the farmer brought out a box of artifacts he had collected over the years. Dad identified and classified each of the items for the grateful farmer.
In return, Dad was permitted to keep whatever he found. That evening, as the artists gathered to share what they had painted, the leader asked Dad to show what he had found. Though neither was certified, Mom and Dad were model teachers simply by how they lived their unpretentious, generous lives.
Typical for their generation, Mom and Dad were careful about showing affection to one another, especially when us kids were around. I never quite understood that. Yet, despite their differences and occasional arguments, I knew deep down that Mom and Dad loved one another.
Accordingly, their black granite headstone is engraved with symbols that most appropriately represented their lives. A pheasant and an arrowhead show Dad’s commitment to conservation and archeology. An artist’s paint palette symbolizes Mom’s talent for sharing the beauty she saw.
Mom and Dad were wonderful parents. It’s only appropriate to honor them on Memorial Day to show our continued affection and appreciation for the charitable, instructive lives they lived as a couple and as individuals.
Originally, the day was set aside to remember those who had lost their lives in military service. Most research points to the American Civil War as the primary reason for Memorial Day. Graves of confederate and Union soldiers alike were decorated with flowers.
New York was the first state to officially observe a Memorial Day in 1873, with the rest of the northern states quickly joining in. The South, however, held its own day, separate from the date observed up north.
After World War I, that all changed. Memorial Day, then called Decoration Day, was established to remember all who had died serving the country in conflict. That’s how I remember the day growing up. Parades with bands, fire trucks, flags, and veterans marched by.
In 1971, Memorial Day was moved to the last Monday of May to create another three-day weekend. With that, the emphasis switched again. It was a time to remember all those who had gone before.
Yet Memorial Day became more of a celebrative affair that lasted the entire weekend than a singular time of showing respect. Picnics, softball tournaments, fireworks, and family gatherings overshadowed a time of reflection on the sacrifices and horrors of war.
When my parents built their beloved cottage in southeast Ohio in 1975, they always invited the entire family down for a Memorial Day picnic. We went fishing, boating, played games, and generally enjoyed each other’s company.
With the kids grown and gone, my wife and I began celebrating Memorial Day at our favorite vacation spot, Lakeside, Ohio. We enjoyed the company of friends, along with food and games. Patriotic events were staged, too, but my preference leaned more toward remembering in silent contemplation than engaging in nationalistic revelry.
As a young boy, I remembered spending hours sorting through the hundreds of black and white photographs that my father had taken during his stint in World War II. I was fascinated with the exotic South Pacific images I saw depicted in those old photos. Water buffalo, island natives selling goods, and intended to be silly equator-crossing ceremonies all intrigued me.
Dad, like his father before him, never wanted to talk much about the war. They each only shared briefly about their individual involvement. I came away from those limited discussions with the impression that both Dad and Grandpa Merle had abhorred their wartime experiences. They wouldn’t give details, but I concluded that it was the fearsomeness of it all from which they wanted to protect me.
Grandpa had served in the trenches in France during World War I, and was hit with mustard gas. He was only treated at a field hospital, and since they had no record of his injury, he suffered with chronic coughing the rest of his life.
Dad, on the other hand, chose a rosier route, avoiding the negatives. He bragged about being on the first ship into Tokyo Bay and how movies were traded from ship to ship via pulley and cable systems. In his retirement years, Dad enjoyed periodic reunions with his U.S.S. San Diego shipmates.
Neither my father nor my grandfather celebrated Memorial Day in grandiose, red, white and blue style. Rather, they chose to personally remember the horrific effects of war silently, privately. All the while, they relished in being surrounded by family and friends, enjoying the precious moments at hand.
It was a gorgeous morning for what my son and my wife had conspired to do. The project itself was both practical and uncomplicated.
Of course, they needed me as the gopher, as in go for this and go for that. As it turned out, I will remember that beautiful morning for a long, long time.
Our son came to help build a pair of tomato trellises, since we will share the eventual bounty with him and his wife. My wife had found a magazine picture of just what was needed for our heirloom tomatoes.
Last year, the heirlooms flourished. But as the blossoms turned into baby tomatoes then plump fruit, the plants gave way to gravity even though they had been staked. If we didn’t get the tomatoes before they hit the ground, the dry rot did.
The main problem was that the tomato patch quickly became a vegetative jungle. It was difficult finding the ripe ones that hung hidden in the leafy overlap. That problem needed to be remedied if our two families were to fully enjoy the fruits of our labors.
The proactive plan seemed simple enough. The growing tomato plants would be safely tied to the wooden trellises, which would better distribute the weight than the previous individual supports had. We had the perfect place to erect them, the south-facing plot next to our bricked garage wall, the scene of last year’s prolific patch.
The needed materials as shown in the picture were easy enough to come by. My wife had already obtained the sturdy oak stakes. I retreated to the neighbor’s farm for baling twine.
Using a measuring tape and a container of flour, the experts measured and marked where the supporting sets of three stakes each would go. Our energetic son climbed the stepladder with sledgehammer in hand, and the seven-foot posts were pounded into the fertile ground at an angle so they crossed near the top. Not wanting to look too professional, we just eyeballed the angles.
After each set of stakes was thumped into place, we attached the crossbars, again three on each side. We secured them to the stakes by crisscrossing lengths of twine around and around and tying them off. I think I can tie square knots in my sleep now.
Each bar was leveled in place. A top bar, which according to our son was purely for looks, was laid in the cradle of where the angled stakes intersected.
Once the first trellis was completed, one would think the second would go easier. Somehow that didn’t really happen. Still, it turned out all right, just a little off skew. The tomatoes won’t care.
In the process of all this measuring, climbing, pounding, angling, leveling and tying, we threw in a little kibitzing as well. You know how mother, father and son, and husband and wife can be. Personal, profound, picky, sarcastic, vulnerable, venerable, loved.
This constructing trio was all that and then some on this lovely morning. While we worked beneath a cerulean sky, robins, nuthatches, house wrens and blue birds called and fed and gathered nesting materials all around us.
Building anything isn’t exactly my strong suit, unless it’s memories. Indeed, this morning well spent fit that definition like a gardener’s glove. In truth, we had built more than tomato trellises.
Creating productive, valued, lasting recollections with family seemed a most appropriate way to prepare for Memorial Day. Come late summer, when the heirlooms are heavy laden but securely ripening, memories of a different flavor will be made.