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May 25th, 2015 - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
A Møøse once bit my sister ...

It's startling how much two similar holidays get mixed up. Each is what it says on the tin: Memorial Day is to MEMORIALIZE those who died; Veterans Day is to honor the VETERANS who serve(d).  Yet it's still worth noting that this day off (except for Eleanor, and to a lesser extent for me) is not all about buying a car. You'd think that from the barrage of ads you get, and I understand why: Memorial Day is one of only three national holidays that falls near the end of a month, and the only one to do so in warmer weather. Retail being such a sales-quota-driven business, it's not surprising that they go all-out to push that product rather than honor the dead.

For me, the day evokes the four things in that earwormy car jingle I headed this piece with.  In order:

* Baseball. Memorial Day is the first major holiday to fall during baseball season (well, unless you count Mothers Day, which doesn't have the same universal appeal). For most of the sport's history, it was one of those traditional Doubleheader Days where there'd be muted but beautiful celebrations between games. By the 1980s, owners had all but killed the concept of giving away two games for the price of one, and for a time, Memorial Day became a virtual day off, Mondays often being a travel day for teams heading from one coast to the other.  That trend has been ended, fortunately, and two Memorial Days ago I traveled to Citi Field to see my first-ever Subway Series game between the Mets and Yankees.  The teams were in camo-capped uniforms, and the pregame ceremonies were fittingly patriotic. The Mets even won! They're home again today after an utterly forgettable week. I will not be there.

* Hot dogs.  Yup, we got 'em. One of the few times all year we'll eat them.  Both of us coming from small families, this holiday never acquired the Pigout Cookout cachet that many Wegmans customers will be obeying today.  But it'll be warm-but-not-too-warm once my beloved gets home from work, and the time around the table will give us plenty to remember about days like this since we've been together.

* Marching band. For six years of my life, this day meant the mandatory march in my hometown's parade down Newbridge Avenue.  For the first three, in junior high band, that one day's parade was our only such obligation; our band director was merciless in trying to get a bunch of uncoordinated music geeks to come to anything resembling a formation. I can still hear "LEFT! LEFT, YOU IDIOT!" in a back corner of my head.  The senior years, we at least had a semester of football games under our stupid helmets, although Memorial Day was the first time we'd put on the spats since Thanksgiving. Also, it was hot.  It could have snowed the day before and the sun would still magically come out and melt the clarinets on the spot.   Today, a sure sign of summer is when they rig up the reviewing stand on Main Street in the village for the parade that will pass there sometime today. I never seem to remember to get there, and if I did, I'd probably screw up all the LEFT! turns.

But finally, and back to what it says on the tin:

*Sacrifice. On the way to that Subway Series game in 2013 (it was at night), I stopped in Waterloo, the acknowledged birthplace of this national holiday.  For years, the village stubbornly wanted nothing to do with the heretic move of the event to a Monday; nothing was planned, and the offices were open.  Eventually, they turned the preceding weekend into something of a family-friendly series of events, but the Monday itself, unless it was the traditional 30th, was still hauntingly quiet.  From my post about it at the time:

(sorry about the dead picture links in the original- I've pasted them back into this one)

The square around Memorial Day Place was eerily silent at 10:ish in the morning; tents were on the parade grounds, but neither parade nor paraders were in sight.  I drove to the western edge of the village, flipped a you-ey and headed back, finally seeing this beyond the square and the heart of downtown:


No signs of date-specific displays or events, but at least it looked lived-in, so I went in. As of 10:30, I was the first guest of the day, and by the time I left, still the only one. A young woman in period costume welcomed me, offered an informal tour, and explained that most of the village's festivities of the touristy kind were over the weekend.  (The exception, for the formal parade and grave ceremony, remains on the traditional May 30th date.)

Still, it gave one pause to remember how divided this nation was exactly 150 years ago:

Waterloo 1863

At least one villager got that word from A. Lincoln himself:


The front room of the museum depicts the sadness and superstition of the day- how mirrors would be covered to prevent the first from looking into one from becoming the next to die; how clocks would be stopped, Mrs. Havisham style, to mark the moment; and how everything was just basic black:



Two years after that 1863 depiction, that war was over. Fifty years later, another was about to begin. Elsewhere in my travels, I heard NPR interviewing Charles Emmerson, author of 1913: In Search Of The World Before The Great War. In the broadcast (transcript and audio here), that author picks up on parallels to  those of this Year '13:

If you went out onto the streets of a big city in 1913, what would you see? You'd see planes, trains and automobiles. You'd see advertising. You'd electric lights. You'd see skyscrapers. You'd see cinemas. So this time, which we often think of as being a black and white - you know, "Downton Abbey" presents it as being really all about class and garden parties and people in uniform. And actually what I wanted to do in sort of providing this tour of the world with not just the European cities and the American cities, but also the cities in Asia - Shanghai, Tokyo, et cetera - is to give a real sense of people's horizons, which were at that time very global.

Remember, this is an age of tremendous immigration. It's also an era of great financial globalization. You have the gold standard. So I really wanted to push that message of modernity, globalization, and fundamentally this idea that in 1913 - for most people - the war was not inevitable.

Yet it came- as did an aftermath of financial ruinousness, ever-increasing partisanship and scapegoating, and the eventual division of humanity into armed camps bent on wiping each other out.  The author uses a quote from the lexicon of Mark Twain, as apt today as it was in his day:

history doesn't repeat itself but it does rhyme.

And that is as important a thing to remember as the holiday itself.

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