It is the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend. I don’t have much planned. If it warms up, I will transplant the tomatoes and basil from the mini greenhouse to the garden. If it dries up, I’ll add a bike ride to the trail run that already happened. I have books to read, movies to watch, CSA food to prepare and eat. There are horses just north of here that will be glad for my company, and there is always the endless to do list of household chores times two. Jasper, being on the quarter system, will not be home until mid-June. His summer job and apartment lease in Corvallis begin July 1. Emerald, and all of her stuff, arrived Thursday night. She left early the next morning for her first training trip on the Snake River. Greg is back East visiting friends and family and dealing with real estate. It will be a quiet weekend, and I kind of like that. The last time our whole family went camping over Memorial Day weekend was when Jasper and his buddy Paul were still in diapers and car seats. The lower elevation camping is often crowded on this holiday weekend, and the weather is unpredictable.
Memorial day is the day our country uses to honor those folks in military service who have died while on duty. Having never lost anyone close to me in the armed forces, I never knew quite which emotion to pull up for the occasion. I recall being in the marching band for parades and solemn cemetery ceremonies, but mostly I just remember thinking of it as the long weekend that starts off summer, with Labor Day marking the end. A few years ago, as Jim took off somewhere for the long weekend, and I settled into days filled with yard work and gardening, my mom and I spoke of the holiday. She had decided to use Memorial Day to remember those who had died before her, mostly her own parents and grandparents, but also her child. I thought that was a grand idea.
Memorials and memories are different. A memorial is physical: a statue, or an event, or holiday. It is “something” intended to commemorate a person, a group, or even an event. A memory is defined as a recollection from the past, or a person’s power to remember things, or even, in the case of memory foam, the capacity for a substance to return to its original shape or condition after being altered or deformed. Memories are much more ethereal, and certainly more subjective than a statue or a national holiday.
When Jim realized that the brain cancer was going to kill him, his biggest fear was that he would be forgotten. He was fascinated during our trips to San Francisco with all the veteran statues in Golden Gate Park. He always insisted that we “take a picture with the dead guy.” At the time, I just thought of it as a weird brain quirk like so many others. Perhaps it was his way of saying, “Folks built a memorial for this guy. Don’t forget me.” Jim’s memorial service was huge. Over 500 people attended and he had picked out not one, not two, but five songs he wanted played. He wanted me to speak, and his kids to speak, and three of his best buddies. He did not want to be forgotten. When I asked where he wanted his ashes spread, he recited six NW locations. It took me almost a full calendar year to honor that wish, and now there are six separate shrines scattered in some of my favorite spots in this universe. There is a brick shit house with his name on it and memorabilia sunk into the concrete at PCEI. Some of the sweetest single track on Moscow Mountain bears his name. Jim has plenty of physical reminders of his life here on earth, but memories are much more ethereal.
I’ve always had a good memory. My power to recollect timelines of events, recall stories, or simply to be able to hit the grocery store without a list, has been an asset. I can also repeat almost complete conversations, which drove Jim nuts when we argued, and I retorted, “but you said….” When I was scattering the last of Jim’s ashes, the friend that joined me couldn’t believe that I had honored his request for all six places. “Wasn’t that just a little selfish of him?” was her retort. I laughed, and exhausted from the hike, agreed. But, it was also wise of him. I was forced, sometimes before I felt ready, to visit our old haunts, to dredge up and release old memories, and to reclaim those spots as mine. To build new experiences in these places, with new people. I have been back to some of these locations, some multiple times. While I always remember, it is no longer just Jim’s death that I recall. It is the good times of our past, and thoughts of more recent visits, and also the realization that I am building yet more memories with every day and every experience. I am not memory foam. Jim’s illness, death, and the immediate grief altered and deformed me in a way that has forever changed me. I cannot return to the shape or condition I was in before. I don’t even want to anymore.
So on this Memorial Day, I remember Jim. I remember my sister, and all of my grandparents. I remember my kids’ childhoods, old dogs, friends and loves that did not stand the test of time. I feel blessed that I am still creating memories with my own parents, Jim’s family, my family, and the wonderful friends I have. My heart is full to overflowing, and there is still so much life ahead of me. So, I won’t go stand in a park or cemetery on this holiday. Instead, I’m making rhubarb jelly from a plant that I received a cutting from back when Jasper and Paul were still in diapers and car seats. On this Memorial Day, I will remember all that died before me, but I will also celebrate ongoing life. Memories and life, like rhubarb, go on forever.