Memorial Day – May 30, 1956 – was unseasonably hot.
With some people it requires advancing years to bring a niggling sense of mortality.
In 1971, an act of Congress changed a number of holiday observances to Mondays, to give federal employees more three-day weekends. That was a loss for me. Because prior to that, my birthday was always declared (by me) to be “the day after Memorial Day,” or May 31st. Originally Decoration Day, it was established to honor those who died in wars. But in my family its observance expanded to include all our dead folk, with visits to various cemeteries filling up the day.
My hometown Spokane is known as the Lilac City, and the shrubs bloom obligingly at that time of year. We had multiple lilac bushes of varying colors, some of the old ones over ten feet tall. Their perfume is exquisite, fleeting, and can’t be captured synthetically. Aunt Ruth would come to town, and on the morning of Memorial Day she and my mother would go out early and cut armloads of lilacs. Buckets of blooms would fill the trunk, and with the makings of floral decorations we piled in the car and headed out. As we stopped at each cemetery, the family buried there would be located, their likely choice of flowers debated (“what do you think for grandma? a mixed bunch of the dark, light purple, and white lilacs?”), and bouquets placed at headstones. Funny or tender stories would be shared as we nodded to other families making the same observance.
Birthday can call to the deepest part of Self, and with some people it requires advancing years to bring a niggling sense of mortality. In my Self, birthday is an equal measure of spoiling by my husband and treasured conversations with my sons, layered above the elusive scent of lilacs, and a memory of walking among the headstones of the welcoming dead who wait patiently. Mom and dad are there now, and I’ve moved to the front of the line.
“So,” related my mother every year on my birthday, “it was a hot Memorial Day in 1956. As we walked through the cemeteries your sister was so fussy, and demanded to be picked up and carried. And the next day…you were born!”