Pretty easy to forget the peaceful parts of Memorial Day: the real desire to be welcomed home, to create a safe home, and to nourish the homestead.
When I moved across the country, calling the states a “home” made a little bit more sense to me. Jesse and I were welcomed everywhere, found people who wanted to hear about our move, talk about what we were doing, and even offer us tips about our relocation. Having a NY State license plate was a talking point at every diner, gas station, and little old place we stopped. The whole country felt woven together and connected.
It made sense, then, to think about wanting to care for the country. Even, to defend the country.
After my grandfather died we went through his old boxes. He saved things we didn’t understand: pennies wrapped in aluminum foil, old perfume bottles, loads of newspapers. But we found things that really taught us about him too: he kept a note by his bedside from his wife (who had died twenty years prior), he had photos from a work reunion party where everyone else brought their families and he went alone to “not be a bother,” we found medical records about ailments we didn’t know about, etc. This was a person I talked to everyday…EVERYday and I know he maintained a lot of individualism, repeated his personal motto “no mush” to avoid too much affection, but it was strange to see how much we didn’t know.
Strange to feel disconnected.
We found his flag from service, which was folded properly, immaculately cared for, and raised and lowered appropriately and often. We found his uniform, military pins, and images from WWII of him, his brother Al. All the images were identical to the image I knew: an innocent, caring, quiet man.
As my grandfather, he didn’t talk about war. He didn’t talk about “any of that” but referred to his time as “service” and seemed weak and fragile when it was mentioned.
Talking about his time in the army, in the war, was sensitive and it was implicit that he’d rather talk about anything else: usually Baseball.
But we found, among piles of things we didn’t understand, a letter from another man in the service. A thank you letter. A hand written thank you letter.
The letter thanks my grandfather for “swimming out far” and “going past all danger” to save his life. Of course, too late to ask about the story or understand what it all meant. Nestled in the same box was a purple heart and the letter goes on to say the word hero, to say that he really deserves the received purple heart. It’s clear, from the writing, that this was written after he received the purple heart and, probably, after some reflection. It’s a long letter that goes on to share what it was like to come home, to heal, and to start a family and live a life. It’s that real desire to share his home, to feel–again–connected.
I think about that kind of peace: doing something for someone else, inviting people into your home, wanting to feel woven together. It sums up the lessons I learned from my grandfather: do something, live for other people, and be humble about it. And I think it’s what he meant when he said “no mush.” I think it’s why we didn’t know he had a purple heart, didn’t know he had a thank you card of that magnitude, and didn’t know he carried that story (and the weight of that story). He did what he did because he was tied to his home, his larger home, which includes all of us.
I usually think about my grandfather for Memorial Day, but this Memorial Day I’m thinking about how he really made everything feel peaceful. And all the men in my family: my paternal grandfather who served as well, my father who served in the Korean war, and the line of “Orsers” who left America during the Revolutionary War as Pacifist who preferred to crawl through fields from NY to Canada rather than take a weapon. All of these people were making a home in the same way their wives, mothers, and daughters were making a home.
This weekend, I made a few things: strawberry jam, a terrarium, granola, yogurt, and a chiffon cake. And it all created a lot of peaceful moments in the house, a lot of time to sit with a book while something baked or reached a certain temperature. These super simple moments are not the same as my grandpa’s purple heart story, but they have the same intention: cultivating a connected, nourished, and peaceful home that has an open door for guests and, another favorite grandpa phrase, “always bread on the table.”