February 2, 2006
|"On behalf of a grateful nation..."|
Mr. Glaus said those actual words. They were not part of any movie script. They were part of the actual speech as he handed the flag to mother.
I had watched them fold it. We had stepped back, away from the casket a little to give them room. A few steps back was tricky business. So many had tried to take advantage of the shade of the large basswood tree. Not that it was any cooler. But the midday sun was at least filtered.
Mother and I nearly stumbled. The green carpet hid the obstacle. Mother was never good on uneven ground anyway. This time the obstacle had been the low marker for my grandparents' grave.
My thoughts had not closely followed the graveside prayer. Oh, I stood politely and bowed my head slightly. But my eyes stayed on the flag draped casket and my thoughts went back to other times I had stood in this cemetery.
Memorial Day! Young girls in pairs laid a spray of evergreen with poppies on the grave the Legionnaires had led us to. They stood straight and tall in dark blue shirts. One at the head, one at the foot of the grave saluted as we laid the decoration.
Memorial Day! The high school band played the National Anthem and Sousa marches. Young girls followed legionnaires to the graves and set down the evergreen sprays with poppies. A trumpeter slipped from the ranks of the band to play "Taps" from the edge of the woods after the three volley rifle salute.
Memorial Day! Standing with mother and an uncle. Watching dad and the other Legionnaires guide young girls to graves with offerings of evergreen and poppies.
Mr. Glaus and Mr. Bechel folded the flag with deliberate motions. Mr. Glaus stepped to mother and spoke as he handed her the large, think triangle. "On behalf of a grateful nation..."
The tears started then. Not a flood. Just enough to make me glad the small package of tissue was in my hand.
"Ready! Aim! Fire!" The first of the three volleys burst over the gathering.
Taps! One trumpet sent the familiar, lonely refrain into the air.
I wiped at my tears. Mother gave me a questioning look. "Too many Memorial Days."
By Ellen Parker
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