Letter from a Vagabond 27 May 2019 Thoughts on Memorial Day…


Unbelievably, it is here, Memorial Day, 2019.  I won’t be seeing much of it, as I am at the bookstore, taking on some managerial duties, lightly, helping out here and there. And as people wandered in and I asked them how they were, they often returned by asking me how I was and I would often comment: darn fine, I am alive, happy, and I enjoy being in the bookstore, though I have spent a bit more time in doing back room things lately and a little less with customers. But it’s a happy space.

Two of last year’s most wonderful people returned this year:  Alexander, who has just finished his first year of pre-med at Duke, and Courtney, who has just graduated from Furman and will be studying for the LSAT. Wonderful, responsible, charming human beings who know a lot about books.

Vlad, my Romanian comrade is returning, as is Tea, who is from Serbia.  It just feels good.

And it is Memorial Day.  And I do remember.  My brother sent me photos from the graves of our parents and our Uncle Joe, and I was grateful.  Far away, I cannot go and honor them though I would if I were there.  The last time I was in Minneapolis, I visited their graves, full of thoughts about the complexities of familial relationships.

Therapists have taken good vacations on the fees I have paid them to help me unravel my feelings about my parents.  Uncle Joe was the best damn uncle anyone could have, and saved me in so many ways.  Being German Catholics, we weren’t ever particularly good at expressing emotions.

The last time I saw him, we held each other and said we loved each other.  It was a remarkable moment and I would have found his passing unbearable if not for that moment.

Memorial Day is to remember the men in arms who have given their lives for this country and so I salute Greg Harrigan, a year ahead of me in high school, who died in the rice paddies of Viet Nam, a kind young man who teased me once and when he realized his tease had hurt me became a fierce protector of me.  I have never ceased to mourn him.

And Phil Taylor, a senior when I was a freshman, football star and Mr. Higgins in “My Fair Lady,” also dead in Viet Nam.  He and his friends taught me cribbage, a game now forgotten though he is not.

When, last fall, I was at Pont du Hoc, and learned the story of the men who fought there, I separated myself from the group so I could cry privately, so great was the heroism of those men.

If you don’t know the story, as I didn’t, read about it – it is a story of heroism and sacrifice and duty and honor and all the really great things we are sometimes.

Memorial Day is to remember all the dead who influenced our lives.  And they are legion. I am at the stage when my contemporaries are leaving the stage of life with a growing regularity.  This week I learned about the passing of a high school classmate of mine, Bill Sievert, who, in his later years, took in a familial group of orphans because no one wanted them.  God rest you, good sir, and gratitude for your generosity.

God smile upon us all and help us savor each day; one day we, too, will be being remembered on this day.  Personally, I hope I am remembered with some fondness, that I did my best, as Frank Sinatra sang, that I “did it my way,” without causing too much pain to others, that I gave smiles to some, helped some, was a good friend to most, an exceptional friend to some.  I would hope to be remembered well.  I think I will be…



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