Heading into Memorial Day Weekend, I’m in full swing packing for the beach. It’s the first glimpse of summer, and I’m heading to Assateague National Park with four kids to camp on the beach. Yep, by myself. Well, kinda. Ted’s working, but our crew of over 50 people have been renting the same campsites for years. The kids know going in that this weekend, they have 20 mothers, and each of us has the same right to ground them if they misbehave. Hasn’t happened yet because they’re too busy having fun. We set up the tents, eat, set up a food court, eat, hit the beach, eat, roast marshmallows around the campfire, eat, and watch the ponies. Somewhere in between all that fun, we eat. It’s the same core group of friends I’ve had since moving to Pennsylvania. Some I see all the time, some only this weekend each year. Life takes us all over, but we manage to find our way back for our Memorial Day weekend beach gala.
The patriarch of our little band of vagabonds is Poppy Ron. He is my best friends’ father in law, and opened his arms to my family and welcomed us into his. That’s his way. There’s always enough love to go around, and he thrives on family. He strongly resembles Captain Morgan, and is a true renaissance man. He’s an artist, he’s a philosopher, he’s a poet, expert in botany…and a Vietnam Veteran. He is my reminder that this weekend is not only about three day weekends, picnics, beach trips and family gatherings, but about remembering those who sacrificed all to ensure our freedom.
Poppy Ron has lost more friends and brothers in arms than he’ll admit. He carries their memories in his heart and soul, wounded in ways I can’t even begin to imagine. He’s not the only one. Most of us have heard our fathers’ and grandfathers’ stories about “their” war, and some of us were lucky enough to hear them from our fathers and grandfathers first hand. Others relied on only the retelling from those who made it home. Our children will hear stories from their mothers and grandmothers as well, hopefully first hand. Those stories are our link to our past, and to our future. There will always be conflict, and there will always be Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who will go where they’re told, do what they’re told, without question, for reasons they might not understand, nor agree with. Some of them will come home to camp on the beach with their children and grandchildren. Some will be remembered at family gatherings instead. Let’s hope none of them vanish into obscurity. They deserve so much more.
On my way down, I will stop at the familiar rest stop, whether I need to or not. The VFW sells poppies there. I buy them in honor of those who are no longer with us, and for Poppy Ron. He’d be rather uncomfortable if he knew that, I’m sure. But sometimes, even the patriarch has to let us say “Thank You” in whatever way we can. And for his brothers who are no longer here, my prayer is that they know how much I appreciate them.
Karen Cluxton lives in Hatfield, PA, and has three teenagers – Halle 16, Owen 14, and Grace 13. Between shuttling kids to soccer, baseball and physical therapy, she trains in Mixed Martial Arts.