Memorial Day is memory day.
Ahh Memorial Day in the midwest, the first official day of summer. It was my all-time favorite of the triad of summer holidays. Growing up in the small towns of Cleves and North Bend, Ohio, Memorial Days were some of the happiest times I can remember, except maybe for one, so here’s the story.
Back in the day, school was ALWAYS out the week before Memorial Day, always. We didn’t start back to school till AFTER Labor Day, why this changed I don’t have a clue. A union thing, I guess. The level of anticipation leading up to Memorial Day was almost unbearable as you sat in class(unairconditioned), in jeans(no shorts allowed). So much to do, so little time. We had to shop for a new swim suit, decorate the bike for the parade, find the sleeping bags, pool toys, coppertone, flashlights.
You see, Memorial Day meant the swim club would open on the Saturday before. 3Rivers Swim Club, a magical place where kids from Catholic schools and Oak Hills meet to hang out with the local riffraff. We got a new swimsuit every year, because last years was eaten up by mass quantities of chlorine and sun. We wore Speedos back then exclusively. We were on swim teams, that’s all we knew. I didn’t learn that this was unacceptable until college, another story. I remember the water was always ice cold, numbing against the early summer sun. We’d get sun burned lobster red that weekend which would turn coppertone tan by the end of the summer. The swim club had it all, a fishing lake, campground, tennis courts, a 3 and 1 meter board. The snack bar had the best fries-crinkle cuts done just right, just the right amount of salt, ketchup on the side. They had frozen 3 Musketeers bars that would bust a filling. Strangely, we ate jello right out of the box, fingers turning the color of the day. It was a glorious place where my parents could dump us for the summer.
Sunday meant a picnic at Grandma Keidel’s house on Porter Street in Cleves, out on the patio where we had planted fresh flowers in the concrete planters, fresh from a Delhi nursery. We ate steaks grilled on lighter fluid soaked briquets, a jello salad molded into something, corn on the cob with plastic corn holders. Dan used to stick me with those amazingly sharp untencils that never lasted the summer. I would decorate my bike after dinner. I had a purple Schwinn Stingray, the envy of the neighborhood. Banana seat, sissy bar, 3 speed stick shift on the bar. I’d doll it up with streamers and of course the baseball card/clothes pin to make the noise. One year it got stolen the night before the parade, I was 12 and tried not to cry, tried. My grandma, GOD bless her, got me a new bike, two weeks later(a Golden Stingray). Captain Jack Renniger said there was a bike theft ring of gypsies in the area. We never locked anything back then. The bikes were ready for the big day ahead…
Memorial Day in Cleves is a sight to be seen. We got up early, hustled down to Cleves, the back way-Mt. Nebo to US 50 to E State to Porter. Mom walked with the Women’s Club, Dad sometimes marched in uniform with Fingers and Fuzzy and Si, until his uniform wouldn’t fit anymore. We’d ride our bikes up to the Kroger Store, parking lot, where we’d pick up the parade coming from North Bend. It had the YellowJacket marching band with fat assed band leader who shall remain nameless, antique cars with veterans and official people like Grandma Hanlon who lost a son in the war. The parade would take its timedown Miami, past Ann’s Tavern where patrons would come to the door but never step out into the sun. it passed Markland where my grandpa, ole Doc Keidel, would be standing, camera at the ready to take a shot he had taken 30 times before. We’d peel off at CT Young Elementary and ditch the bikes at Grandam’s and catch a ride to the Maple Grove Cemetery. There were speeches, someone would read the Gettysburg address and the best part was the 21 gun salute at each war memorial. I remember scrambling for the brass shell casings like they were gold nuggets. You could blow across the top of the casing a certain way to make a ear wrenching, high pitched whistle. Man I can hear that haunting taps done with two trumpeters.
Then we would all go to the Legion Hall for brats and beers and songs. Years later, Fin Harrold would get Cal Collins to play jazz guitar every year, I will never forget the Legion Hall. I drank my first beer there. It was a prelude of things to come. All before noon.
My family went to picnics on Memorial Day and Labor Day ever year with all the families that grew up with my Dad. Most all had nicknames, Big Daddy Don Crow, Fuzzy, Si Sizemore, Lardo Anderson, Fingers Thompson, the Evans’, Bixy, many more. They all had kids my age. It was at a different house every year my favorite being the Crow house with the bar in the basement. The parents would drink cold beer and burn meat and the kids would fill up on pop and chips and sweets baked that day.
But thing I remember most about the greatest generation that my parent belonged to ,was the songs. They sang patriotic songs, in particular, It’s a grand old flag. For hours they would harmonize the beautiful songs about our country.
They loved this country, loved it.
And that’s what Memorial Day should be about, it is for me.