I grew up on the Jersey Shore. That is to say, I grew up “down the shore.” Memorial Day weekend usually marked the beginning of the madness we knew as summer. My small beach towns population multiplied on a daily basis by at least 4. On the weekends it was easily by 10. Sitting on our front porch, we could see people walk to the beach, walk home, walk back to the beach night clubs, and stumble home. There were few open parking spaces on the streets and avenues. We had a big backyard and it could be accessed from the driveway, so we always had a place to park.
Memorial day meant, for the locals, that we would usually leave the beach, and head a little farther inland. We would escape the ruckus and go to a BBQ. It was a time honored tradition. It usually meant lots of exposed tattoos, lots of cursing and some beers. The adults, I was told, had a good time too. There were few major wars in the 80’s -Iran Contra didn’t really count for some reason except to try to fry Reagan. The adults who knew Viet Nam, didn’t discuss it much, as far as I knew. Volleyball and manhunt were the order of the day.
Come to think of it, we played a game called “Smear the Queer.” I mentioned it the other day during a game of RISK. I said I was getting smeared…like a queer. My friend Steve laughed, both our wives had a combined reaction of disapproval, confusion and curiosity. I asked Steve if he had remembered that game and he said yes. We both said, “Smear the queer,” in our best tough childhood boy affectations. My wife was aghast that it was a game. We are both Conservative Hippies, and are adimantly pro-marriage FOR ALL LEGAL CITIZENS. We don’t even seperate the issue into gay or straight.
I explained it was game of football, guts and violence, having nothing to do with homosexuals. If the ball was thrown in the air, whomever it landed near had to obtain it, or catch it. This made him, or her The Queer. It was the job of the rest of us to tackle the person while he tried his best to avoid the full on smear. If you purposely avoided the football, you were Queer for sure. The ladies were relieved that amongst the rest of our defects, we were not, nor had been gay-bashers in our childhood.
I digress. Lots of games were played, lots of food was eaten, lots of eyes turned red from over chlorinated pools. Chlorine: lets swim in a solution of it. None of these activities are distractions from the meaning of the holiday. Memorial day and the frivolities are the point. I am not discounting the dead, far from it. I honor them, completely and without reservation.
When I was a kid down the shore. One of my very best friends was Jim M. We would play Army a lot. I wanted to be a 4 star general, Kevin and Joe were usually in the middle ranks. Jim never assigned himself a rank, he assigned himself a duty, M.P. He always played M.P. He grew up and became and M.P. He spent the last 6 years in Iraq as an M.P. Just for the record, in Catholic school he was also voted Class Clown while I got Most in Trouble. Jim’s sister, two little brothers, and cousin are all military. JIm is alive and as well as can be expected, reasonably content like the rest of us.
In high School I was an acquaintence, friend but not real close, with a guy named Floyd. He was a friend of a friend. Floyd was a wrestler and a Homecoming Court attendee, he played football and had a pretty girlfriend. I remember we were told explicitly not to wear shorts under our graduation gowns because it was disrespectful. Not only did he wear shorts, he lifted his gown for all of the school and attendees to see, right before he shook our principles hand. Iit was kind of a big deal. Years later I reconnected with the people with whom I went to HS, via FB. I was happy to have made a lot more connection in adulthood than I had in the 90’s with people from that school. Floyd had become a Marine. He looked as bad ass in that uniform as anyone could. After fulfilling his duty, he opted for another term. GySgt Floyd Holley went back a third time. Go Greyhounds.
It was my friend, Jim who reminded me to think of the Floyd soldiers this year. I am always appreciative of everything every soldier has done, and still hold a small bit of shame. I sat outside a recruiters office in 2001 without the guts to go in. Maybe a rash decision to join isn’t the best way to make that big step and a deeper sense of commitment is necessary and that was God’s way of keeping me for some other purpose. I rationalized it in a bunch of ways, believe me.
Memorial Day is for the dead soldiers. I used Veterans Day to honor the ones who are still alive. I use every day to make sure that neither of their service was in vain. The Conservative Hippy ought not waste a day in self-seeking and pious or wasteful frivolities for that reason alone. Conservative Hippyism believes that spending an afternoon with loved ones, recreating and relaxing is not blasphemous on these days of remembrance. It is exactly what the soldiers and Veterans put their life on the line for us to do. Conservative Hippyism teaches that some special recognition be paid to dead soldiers on this day, and entire weekend, but not in piety and self-reflective ways, to shine a light on one’s own sense of righteousness under the guise of right and just patriotism. Furthermore, it teaches that remembering these soldiers is a daily event, reflected not in the car-bumper-magnet-ribbons, campaign ads, or chest pounding political arguments. Honor and respect is best reflected in the ways we uphold in our daily lives the principles for which these soldiers went to war.