My husband and I take our kids to Bay Pines National Cemetery in St. Petersburg every Memorial Day. We’ve been attending this event for 14 years and can remember the days when hardly anyone showed up.
Back in 2000 and 2001, we could always find a parking space, a seat in front, and plenty of elbow-room as we walked around the graveyard. That changed with 9/11 and our country’s involvement in wars all over the world. The crowds grew and people keep coming back every year with personal stories and memories to share.
I’m not always thrilled with the vibe.
At Bay Pines, the crowd tends to be more right-wing than I’d prefer. This is not surprising, considering most in attendance are older, white, and from a military background. My family and I don’t identify with their viewpoint, but I just tell the kids to think of those folks as kin.
Let’s be honest, add some beer and a few curse words and it could easily be a Durkin family reunion.
We sit toward the back in a row with several empty seats and try to ignore all the Constitution Watchdog and Tea Party shirts. I think happy thoughts when people start quoting Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck.
“What do they mean by ‘a real patriot’?” my kids ask and I struggle to answer.
We will hear a few jokes about liberals, but I’m used to that. I work in education reform. At least this year, I won’t have to listen to Bill Young tell that same story about his wife and how she wore a “Support Our Troops” shirt into the halls of Congress during President Bush’s State of the Union address in 2006.
Rep. Young always left out the part about Cindy Sheehan, who wore an anti-war shirt that same day. Not only was she asked to leave, but Sheehan was also arrested.
It’s no wonder liberals and progressives find something else to do on Memorial Day. It’s hard sitting around half-wits who have never read the Constitution, yet pretend to defend it. It’s hard listening to people who claim to be patriots, but say disparaging things about those who are in our nation’s capital, fighting for them, every single day.
But after Taps plays and my tears dry, I walk around the graves with my family for a few minutes. We block out the hate-mongers vying for television cameras and instead privately thank those who are buried before us. My boys and I say a simple prayer for everyone who gave the ultimate sacrifice, veteran and civilian alike, and then we leave to enjoy a beautiful day together.
That’s what Memorial Day is all about, after all, an annual opportunity to pay tribute to those who have died for our country. There are many ways to demonstrate our appreciation and remembering them is the least we can do. Grateful Americans attend services and wear red poppies to show they haven’t forgotten the fallen.
This is an excellent time to teach your kids about their culture, community and the responsibility we have to continue certain traditions. Besides, honoring those who deserve it goes great with barbecue.
Catherine Durkin Robinson is a political advocate and organizer, living in Tampa.