At the house next to Mom’s, in the ditch beside the road, a patch of brilliant red poppies stands watch. I pass them every time I walk the short block to Mom’s house.
Their bright color draws my eyes and my attention. I can hardly take my eyes from them as I approach. They possess me fully as I pass them, reaching deep within me to evoke memories and emotions long forgotten.
As a child, I remember seeing, on the way to church the Sunday before Memorial Day, men standing at stop signs and traffic lights holding buckets containing red paper poppies. My dad ALWAYS stopped long enough to give a dollar and receive a red poppy.
I didn’t understand the significance, but I knew it was important to him.
By the time I became an adult, the tradition had waned and I remember purchasing the red poppy myself only a few times. Can’t buy what’s not available.
My dad served in WW2. He died last June.
Several years ago, I called my dad and wished him “Happy Memorial Day” and thanked him for his service. He thanked me and then told me Memorial Day wasn’t for remembering him. It was for remembering those who died in service to our country. He also said that Veteran’s Day was for remembering soldiers and sailors who lived to tell the stories of those who didn’t.
This year Memorial Day, for me, honors my dad and his service. Not just his service in the support and protection of our nation, but our family as well.
It’s fitting that by the road just beyond my dad’s yard a stand of red poppies grows.
I love you, Daddy! Thank you for your service! You were faithful to stand watch until eight bells. I miss you! Happy Memorial Day!
Note: The wearing of poppies in honor of America’s war dead is traditionally done on Memorial Day, not Veterans Day. The practice of wearing of poppies takes its origin from the poem In Flanders Fields, written in 1915 by John McCrae. For information on how to obtain poppies for use on Memorial Day, contact a veterans service organization, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States (VFW) or The American Legion, as a number of veterans organizations distribute poppies annually on Memorial Day. You can find veterans groups in the Veterans Service Organization link on VA’s Veterans Day web page. Veterans groups in your area can be found in your local phone book. Look in the yellow pages under “Veterans and Military Organizations” or a similar heading.