Memories and Memorial Day
After enjoying her first cup of English Breakfast tea, Allison pulled a simple cream-colored teapot from a shelf in one of the kitchen cabinets. She didn’t want anything colorful or festive, just a simple teapot to serve as a vase.
She opened the drawer where she kept her pruning shears, grabbed a pair of garden gloves tucked nearby, and headed out back to her rose garden. Unusual for May, there was a chill in the air, and that suited her just fine.
Her David Austin English roses were doing well, she noticed, especially the soft, vintage pink ones like ‘Tea Clipper’ and ‘Wedgwood.’ But no, those frilly specimens weren’t the ones she wanted. Only those velvety blood-red American roses would do for the arrangement she had in mind.
Actually, Allison liked all roses. The sturdy red ones out back came with the house, probably some Jackson and Perkins roses bought by the truckload back when the subdivision was first built decades ago. Sturdy and stately, the lush red roses never failed to bloom and give off their sweet perfume.
Allison usually preferred to see her roses on the bushes as God intended them, but that day, she had something else in mind and needed them inside.
Earlier in the year, Allison and her husband, Mark, had vacationed in France for two weeks. While there, they decided to visit the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. Mark was a World War II buff, and while Allison was by no means the expert he was, she was only too happy to make the trip because she’d always heard how her great-uncle, Marvin, had died in Normandy on D-Day. She never knew the specifics of his death but simply considered him one of the awful casualties of war.
As a media specialist—what they called a “librarian” back when she was in school—Allison knew the basic timeline of the war, the major battles, and the historic moments that were still taught to most students. Her trip to Normandy, however, convinced her how much she had yet to learn about the war.
One of Mark’s old college friends, Gerard, lived near Colleville-sur-Mer, the town where the cemetery was located, and he had met Mark and Allison at the nearest train station and driven them to the site. The entrance was beautifully landscaped. Simply going through the visitor center was a moving experience. There, portraits showed some of those who died in the war, including a woman who had the same name as a teacher at Allison’s school. That was rather jarring to her, as it no doubt was for that woman’s friends all those years ago.
But it was an offhand comment Gerard had made in the visitor center that stayed with Allison.
She had been studying the grainy old photos of young men landing on Omaha Beach when she noted the heavy equipment they were carrying as they left their landing craft and headed to shore.
“It’s a wonder they made it through the water with those heavy loads,” she said.
“Many of them didn’t,” Gerard said. “Lots of them drowned before they ever even got to shore.”
Allison had always assumed her great-uncle was killed by a land mine or gunfire on D-Day. It never occurred to her he might have drowned.
After touring the cemetery and viewing all the memorials, she realized there was a lot about World War II that had never occurred to her.
“Whatcha doing?” Mark asked, suddenly interrupting Allison’s reverie.
“Oh, nothing. Just making a little flower arrangement for our Memorial Day cookout,” she said.
“Listen, I’m running to the store for more gas for the grill. I don’t want to run out while your family’s here this evening.”
“Sounds good,” she said and watched him leave. Grilling out on Memorial Day was one of her favorite family traditions.
As Allison pulled a spotty leaf from one of her roses, she thought back to the flower arrangements she had seen lying at the base of some of the crosses and Stars of David marking those graves in Normandy. She had placed a small bouquet at her great-uncle’s grave. Like other visitors to the cemetery, she and Mark had gathered sand from the beach and rubbed it into the engraved lettering on the cross so that Marvin’s name would show up in a photo. Afterward, she’d wondered whether it was respectful to take a photo of a grave marker, yet she couldn’t have imagined not taking the photo. She was glad she had, because her parents had seemed to appreciate it.
Enjoying the quiet and peaceful morning, Allison was content to be back home in America, traipsing through her rose garden and snipping roses.
For far too many years, she thought, she had treated Memorial Day as simply a fun holiday and an excuse for a three-day weekend. But the trip to Normandy had changed that. It made her resolve to observe the day properly and remember those who gave their lives for their country—including her great-uncle.
Satisfied with her rose selections, Allison went back inside the house to preheat the oven for a cake she was baking for the family cookout. Then she prepared another cup of tea and settled in to watch the news, hoping perhaps someone would be filming live at the cemetery in Normandy. The sight of those 9,387 grave markers was one she would never forget. And she hoped she’d never again take it lightly.
Allison rinsed out the cream teapot, filled it halfway full with cool water, and arranged a few of those deep red roses. In back, she added a small American flag she’d picked up at the craft store.
“There,” she said. “And thank you, Uncle Marvin.”