Visited folks in Massachusetts for Memorial Day weekend. It’s the start of summer in the United States and the start of flag season. Towns and villages hold parades and a ceremony in the court square; there is a stop at the cemetery where a bugler sounds “Taps” and local members of the Armed Forces give a 21-gun salute to fallen and forgotten veterans. (But never say they are forgotten.)
The season runs from Tuesday, June 14, Flag Day, to July 4, Independence Day. (There’s no holiday in the United States that doesn’t have a flag written all over it, even religious holidays.)
This particular Memorial Day was problematic. I’m sure there were Americans who felt the same way, but I didn’t hear them comment on TV or read them in the local paper finer than my dad’s hair. Meanwhile, nine out of 10 American flags flew at half mast to commemorate the 19 children and two teachers killed in Uvalde, Texas.
On one side the flags were lowered; on the other, flags lined the streets. It was as if the right hand did not, or could not, see what the left hand was doing, much less work with it to wash away their sins.
This particular Memorial Day weekend was also difficult personally. The mother has a form of dementia. She spaces out, forgets things, repeats stories, hasn’t driven in years. These days, she’s left cooking to the local Aging Council or my dad, whose repertoire once limited to fried eggs and buttered toast has expanded to slow-cooker stews. He also cleans the house. Even at 85, he has a reputation as the welder with the most stable bead in Hampden and Hampshire counties, so he’s still working.
My mother, on the other hand, does puzzles and knits. She looks out the window at the alley, which she calls a street, which winds through a grove of oaks, spruces, poplars and birches. Above all, she sings. Hymns from when she was in the church choir, Christmas tunes and, when Dad is nearby, “You Are My Sunshine.” Quebec songs from his childhood.
On Sundays, instead of going to church, my parents watched “The Chalice of Salvation” on local television. It was Memorial Day weekend, the opening and closing songs were patriotic. My mother couldn’t have told you why they sang them that day. But later she said, “Hey, Raymond, you know what we sang today?” and launched in “God Bless America”.
I asked him to stop singing. She continued. I asked him again, a little more forcefully. “Stop singing those damn songs.” Only, I didn’t use “damn”.
I shouted at my mom for doing the one thing she loves these days.
This is where we have come to in the United States: frustrated, enraged people going wild over their inability to control the uncontrollable. Church and State drink from the same poisoned chalice. We slaughter the innocent in classrooms or, if they turn 18, we send them to slaughter in Somalia, Afghanistan or Iraq. Those half-mast flags will be raised soon enough, then lowered. It’s not just my mother who is forgetful.