In the interest of public safety during the COVID-19 emergency, the City of Manitowoc canceled its annual Memorial Day event. Every other year on this day, I walked to Veterans’ Park on N. 18th Street for the ceremony after the annual parade. Families in previous years lined the terraces on both sides of Michigan Avenue and relaxed in lawn chairs brought from home. Despite the solemn faces of the Color Guards, and the military-themed music of the marching bands, the mood was festive: summer, here at last. I usually arrived on the scene to see the tail-end of the parade, then joined a much smaller crowd for the ceremony afterward. This included brief speeches given by our elected leaders, emotional presentations by veterans’ groups, and patriotic songs sung by the Clipper City Chordsmen, of which my husband is a member. After that, an Honor Guard lowered and raised the American flag, startling many of us with the concussion of its four-gun salute.
It’s impossible for me to think of any Memorial Day without thinking of my grandparents, who lived around the corner from the parade route. Grandpa would pull two rattan chairs onto their small front porch, which to my child’s perception looked like tropical thrones. There my grandparents sat, regally observing the flow of families, pets, and participants who strolled past. Afterward, I got to split a bottle of pop with my grandfather or one of my siblings.
I think that Memorial Day was a complex time for Grandma and Grandpa, though as a child, I didn’t realize. I was simply excited to spend time with them, have a day off from school, and enjoy a picnic in the afternoon. In the first lines of my poem, “Patriot,” I tried to express what I saw as a child, then describe what I learned as an adult about Memorial Day’s greater significance. I’m grateful to Roderick Bates of Rat’s Ass Review, for recognizing that this poem fits the theme of a special issue dedicated to the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States, Such an Ugly Time.
Illustration: Ruttan, Charles E., Artist. A wonderful opportunity for you–United States Navy / Ruttan. [New York, N.Y.: New-Art Lithographic Company Inc] Photograph. Retrieved from the National Museum of the U.S. Navy.