Ahhhh … Memorial Day, the traditional start of picnic season.
When I was a kid growing up in Michigan, this weekend was, perhaps, more significant than it seems to folks in Florida, where backyard barbecues are pretty much possible all year round.
To us, this holiday was the first picnic possibility in at least eight months. We prayed for warm weather, but often settled for anything that excluded rain, no matter how chilly the actual temperature.
We dug out last year’s shorts and tank tops, wearing them even if we had to have a jacket over them. We brought our bats and balls, our Frizbees and roller skates, our volleyballs and croquet sets. Even if we had to dodge mud puddles, we scrabbled together a game just to prove to old man winter that he was banished.
In our family, Memorial Day usually meant a trip to northern Michigan where my grandparents and most of my relatives lived. The chances of it being cool there were even greater, but that didn’t stop our enthusiasm.
First order of business was always the Memorial Day parade featuring the high school band playing Sousa marches and the VFW flag corps marching in WWII-era uniforms, a bit too small by then. We cheered them on, following them to the cemetery where wreaths were laid and kids were threatened with death if we did not remain solemn and silent till the ceremonies were done.
Only then did the picnicking begin in earnest. Our dads fired up the grills for hot dogs hamburgers and corn on the cob, while our moms, aunts and grandmothers brought out the potato salad and baked beans.
We kids could barely stand to quit playing long enough to eat, but we knew we had to down at least a plateful if we had any hope of getting the desserts our moms were keeping under wraps.
After dinner we’d cajole our dads to join in a family-wide softball game. We’d choose up sides but it really didn’t matter who won or lost. Sometimes we’d just play workup, where you start at pitcher and progress to play each base till you’re the catcher and then finally you get to bat.
About the time we were all too pooped to keep going, Mom would signal us to gather round for cupcakes, watermelon, Popsicles, or whatever other treats were waiting in coolers under the picnic tables.
By dusk we were helping to pack everything back in the cars and head for Grandma’s house. There all kids got hosed down to remove the watermelon dribbles, baseline dust, and plain old sweat of the day. If we were not dirty enough for the full hose treatment we’d roll around on the ground to make sure, because no one was going to miss running and squirting each other till it was too dark to see.
As evening fell we kids would go in search of lightning bugs and try to catch them in jars. Invariably my brother would gross us all out by squeezing the lighted tail off one (or more) and putting them on his tongue. It probably grossed him out too, but making all the girls scream and run away was worth it.
When our clothes were finally dry and the mosquitoes were out, we’d reluctantly give up and go inside. That’s when we’d gather round, sitting cross-legged on the floor to listen to our dads and grandfathers tell stories about when they were kids or when they were in the great war, which was pretty much one in the same.
Today we honor their memories. Thank you, veterans. We love you all.