Tuesday, June 1, 2010
My mother’s father, Jack Flynn, is the only veteran I know of in my family history. And the only Memorial Day in my childhood that I can remember being celebrated in a traditional way was a singular visit to the cemetery outside of Capac, Michigan where he was laid to rest. I can’t say that I know too much about him, except for the fact that after returning from World War I he finished studies at Detroit College of Law , but never practiced. In fact, never worked, at all. My mother, and her sister, rarely spoke of him—a fact they don’t quite acknowledge, even now. Every year I find out another fact, or two, about him, for example, this year I learned he wore spatz every day. Spatz.
In an early Jules Verne story, space travelers expel a dead dog from their “rocket ship,” only to find that the dog, named “Satellite,” remains with the ship as it hurtles toward the moon through empty space. In this way, Robert Pogue Harrison reminds us, in his book, The Dominion of the Dead, the dead “like to stay close to the living.” I, too, feel that they are never far from us.
So Memorial Day, I think no more nor less of the dead that any other day. I do however think of the past. It’s really the first day of summer. The smell of mown lawn and motor oil. Ernie Harwell’s voice (Godpseed, Ernie!) describing Al Kaline fouling off pitch after pitch until he finds just the one to line into the gap. Strohs, fire brewed for flavor, preferably in long-necked bottles, recapped so many times that they’re gone grey around the edges. Or Faygo Rock and Rye. Vernors. The last days of grade school, the promise of summer upon us exactly like . . . the promise of summer.