Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Day

Memorial Day was yesterday. It was the first time I had ever really paid attention to the significance of the holiday- because prior to yesterday’s Memorial Day, I was either out of the country or it was simply an excuse to party in either the Hamptons or some other quintessential long-summer-weekend destination.

Yesterday, however, I was in Eau Claire, Michigan (A tiny all-American village with a population of a little over 600 people. My family’s business (pickles) is based in Eau Claire and therefore, they are pretty prominent in the society (if you can call it that). Every Memorial Day, the Veteran’s association of Eau Claire, Michigan prepares a flag ceremony in order to honor the fallen soldiers or departed veterans of the American wars.

My grandfather, Seymour Flamm, who is now gone, was one of the names called out to receive a flag. “Papa Sey” as I called him was a 1st Lieutenant in World War Two and received a Purple Heart. I don’t know as much about history as I should- and I wasn’t old enough to appreciate what a wonderful man he was- but my grandmother and their daughters are around to share with me. What I do know is that I would have liked him- as everybody did. He was kind- he was warm- he was a good husband and a great father. He loved without reserve. He was smart- he was honest- he was a hard worker but he knew what was important, and that was his family. He was an enforcer, but he enforced only what needed enforcing. Otherwise, he was gentle- an old soul. He was the wisest man most people had ever met. I know my mother and her sisters miss him. I miss him. But more than missing him- I’m sad that I missed getting to know him.

Therefore, when my aunt asked me if I was interested in receiving the flag for Papa Sey during the Memorial Day ceremony yesterday, I was happy to accept the invitation.
While the boys all went out to the golf course on the beautiful Monday morning, my aunt Gina, my mom and I all drove the 40 minutes out to Eau Claire. Standing amongst only about 100 people, many of whom were war veterans themselves, wearing their medals or battle fatigues, there was a solemn air abetted by the mid-day heat. We had received a printed out list of those being honored and as the names were slowly called out, family members and friends stepped forward to receive the flag honoring their loved ones.

When “Seymour Flamm” was named, I walked up to receive Papa Sey’s flag. I bowed my head out of respect and I smiled. I was proud to be his granddaughter. I was proud to be part of his family- a family who has always made a difference in its community- a family that leaves its mark.

As I walked back to my place amongst my family, I saw my mom with tears in her eyes and before I could say anything, she hugged me and said “He would have been proud to have you as a granddaughter.” I, of course, burst into tears and made an gratuitous spectacle of myself- but at that point, there wasn’t really a dry eye in the house, so my absurd display of emotion went somewhat unnoticed.

Needless to say, it was nice to hear that- especially from my mother. The memory of my grandfather is respected and held in an esteem I can only hope to reach. Therefore, to hear his first daughter- his biggest fan of all- tell me that he would be proud of me- makes it all worth it. Because in this life- we suffer, we strive, we sometimes fail and at many times, we wonder what it’s all for…but on Monday- I caught a glimpse of purpose- and if anything, it’s to honor the memory of those we have loved and lost. To make them proud, as they continue to make us proud.

Memorial Day: it may be meant to “commemorate U.S. men and women who perished while in military service,” but for me- it’s a day to remember Papa Sey. A man who served his country- but survived long enough to start a legacy- a legacy that I am proud to be a part of.

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