By Jeff Gilliland – [email protected]
Maybe U.S. Rep. and Army Reserve officer Brad Wenstrup said it best in a column that appeared in this newspaper this week: “Remember that your happiness, your life opportunities, your freedom, are the very reasons that those we memorialize this weekend gave of their lives. When you go to bed at night, and you feel safe, secure, and unafraid … remember why.”
As you are surely aware, Monday is Memorial Day. And while many will celebrate it with cookouts, parties, weekend excursions and the like, each and every one of us should take at least a few minutes to remember why we have the freedom to enjoy such things.
In my youthful years I remember mostly family get togethers on Memorial Day. It was a celebration of the end of school, the beginning of summer, and a few months of freedom waiting ahead. I’m sure that when it came time for prayer before a meal, whoever was giving thanks took the time to remind us of those who fought for our freedom.
Still, those brave souls were not at the forefront of my thoughts. I was more likely thinking of my next turn at bat on a ball field, my next cast of a fishing pole, or the homemade ice cream that came after the meal.
As I grew older, I drifted away from family events and leaned more toward hanging out with friends. In fact, my favorite Memorial Day memory is of the several years I spent Memorial Day weekend camping with friends.
I do not remember the years exactly, or even how many years there were, but probably through most of my 20s I spent every Memorial Day weekend at a nearby place called Long’s Retreat.
It started with a handful of us the first couple years, then for a couple more years another handful joined us. Before long there were 10 or 12 of us, then 15 to 20, and before we knew it many more.
But my favorite years were the early ones. Basically all we did from Friday evening until sometime Monday afternoon was play games. Jarts and wiffleball were probably our games of choice. But we also played volleyball, croquet, darts and softball, went swimming, threw footballs and Frisbees, floated around in the water on mats and rode the same mats down slides and more. And if we weren’t engaged in one of those pursuits, we were either eating or socializing and listening to music.
We always stayed in the far back corner of the campground, where we could be a bit more rambunctious than most campers. Most mornings we’d grab a towel, toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, and something to wash our mouths out with, head to the creek, and take a little hike to a waterfall. That’s where we’d take our showers. Sometimes we’d head back to the waterfalls later in the day to knock the sweat off and soak in some sun.
One year, when about 10 of us were camping, a few like-minded families camped across the way from us. They were playing games just like us, and eventually they challenged us to a game of wiffleball. We won. So they challenged us to a different game, and we won again. The same scenario played out over and over and every single time we somehow came out on top. So, one evening one of them proclaimed, “OK, in the morning we’re all going up to the softball field and play something we can beat you at.”
Well, we won that game, too.
As both groups were packing up to leave that weekend a massive marshmallow fight broke out. I don’t think there was a winner or loser, but I know that as we parted ways we were all laughing, shaking hands, slapping each other on the back, and maybe picking an overused marshmallow off our clothing.
We had never seen any of the other group before, and as far I know I’ve never seen any of them since. But I will never forget that weekend.
As the years progressed the Long’s Retreat Memorial Day crowd grew too large, other commitments emerged, and our run of celebrations came to an end.
I eventually returned with a family of my own and celebrated many more Memorial Days at Long’s Retreat. They were not like the former days, but they hold special memories, too, and they were all possible because of a day set aside to remember our veterans, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
For the past 15 years or so I’ve worked pretty much every Memorial Day. It is kind of pain to work on a holiday, especially when family and others are celebrating a day off. But my work on Memorial Day always starts with a visit to services in Hillsboro or Greenfield, and every time I walk away, I’m glad I went. It’s not a lot of fun heading to the office afterward, but having never served in the military, it kind of seems like putting together a Memorial Day edition of the newspaper is the least I can do for those who have served.
This weekend I will not be covering a Memorial Day service. I will be on vacation. I’m not exactly sure where I will be, but somewhere along the line I will take time to pause and think about those who made it possible for me and mine to be doing whatever we want to do.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.