The peonies are slightly behind schedule for Memorial Day. I worry about such things, not because I want to, but because I have to. It’s part of my heritage. For years, women in my family have monitored peonies like Patton monitored the troops, but without the swearing.
My peony bushes came from my mother’s peony bushes, and her bushes came from her mother’s bushes. I remember when my mother dug up some of her peonies, wrapped them in newspaper, and helped cram them in our mini-van so we could drive them 500 miles to our home. It wasn’t, “Would you like some peony bushes?” It was, “Here are your peony bushes.”
In my mother’s eyes, a woman who lived in a house with a yard and didn’t have peony bushes was a mere girl pretending to be a woman. So we brought home the peony bushes and planted them. Now, every May, I engage in the time-honored tradition of monitoring them to see if they will be ready for Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it was once called, just like my mother and grandmother used to do.
If the peonies didn’t look like they would be ready by Memorial Day, a fervor came over my mother. It was not unlike the fervor with which the troops took Normandy. If the peonies weren’t in bloom, she would cut them by the bushels, haul them into the basement, and place them in old coffee cans, buckets and tubs full of warm water, and order them to bloom.
While we often made the cemetery rounds to decorate the graves of loved ones, we never lost site of the fact that Memorial Day was really to honor fallen soldiers. The true observance of the day was never far from my father’s mind, as he lost one of his brothers during World War II.
I always flinched whenever my dad’s brother’s name was spoken. I flinched because I knew the loss caused my father and everyone in his family unspeakable pain.
I still flinch, not just at the memory of one fallen soldier, but at the many. I flinch because each and every day I enjoy a bounty of freedoms made possible by thousands upon thousands I will never know, and can never thank. They gave up the comforts I blithely presume upon: home and family, shelter and safety, and the expectation of more years to come. They lost their claim to such wonderful things when they laid it all down.
They may be gone, but they are not forgotten. They are the knot in the throat when the flag passes by. They are the invisible sentry protecting the media and the flow of information on the web. They stand behind every voting booth and political gathering.They are the gust of wind that helps open the door to every house of worship. They are on the horizon at every rendition of Taps and at every graveside presentation of a folded flag.
We can thank those who sacrificed by remembering. We can honor them by being vigilant to insure that the battles they waged to protect freedom and liberty are never lost.