Friday, May 28, 2010
Memorial Day, revisited
I don’t have many memories of my childhood, good or bad. Except for Memorial Day, which my family always spent in Macksville, Kansas (population 310. It increased by 7 when our dusty station wagon drove into town).
The trip from Topeka to Macksville was usually a sweaty seven hour drive through the Kansas heartland. This was in the days before video games, Ipods, VCRs, even tape decks, so my siblings and I had to be especially creative in finding ways to entertain ourselves. I was fond of making dolls out of empty pop bottles and kleenexes. My brothers would oblige me for a while before resorting to amusing themselves with vulgar bodily noises. When we got really bored, we would count (and try to identify) the dead animals along the side of the road.
When we finally cruised past the Macksville city limits sign, I always half-expected to see banners unfurled on Main Street, announcing our arrival.
“The Hurleys are here!” they should have proudly proclaimed, because with the arrival of our family, it surely seemed that summer had begun.
We’d pull up to my great-grandma’s house and swarm into her tiny kitchen. Grandma Thurow was a short, bosomy woman of Bohemian descent. She had a birthmark on her forehead–her “strawberry,” she called it–and I thought she was the most beautiful and kind grandma in the world.
She had a special drawer in her kitchen that was always filled with goodies for the grandkids. Fresh baked ginger cookies, candies and treats of all kinds were there for the taking. There were no rules about eating at grandma’s house.
More often than not, we would burst in and interrupt her in the process of making homemade egg noodles (for chicken soup), or gritsiverst (a delicious kind of German scrapple).
Pies for the big gathering on Monday sat cooling on the windowsill.
On Memorial Day, we’d pile into the our car and head for the cemetary, just south of town. The adults would visit as they arranged flowers on relative’s graves and we kids would play hide and seek among the taller tombstones. Ben, the elderly disabled veteran, would shuffle about selling red paper poppies to the townsfolk as we waited for the marching band to arrive, which was always ended by a real, live 21 gun salute.
My mom especially loved going back to Macksville for Memorial Day. She grew up on a farm outside of town and it was her chance to catch up with her childhood friends and family. Every year, I’d be pinched and patted and told I was the spitting image of my mother. And I didn’t mind. In fact, I loved the connection with the past and with family–it was like an anchor that steadied my young soul through many future storms.
(first posted in 2006)