When I was little, Memorial Day was always celebrated on May 30. Although I didn’t personally know anyone who had died serving our country, there were a lot of World War II veterans still living at that time, including my dad, uncles, and most of the neighborhood dads. Actually, there were still a lot of World War I vets around, too. Flags flew on many of the houses on my block on Memorial Day. Dad said they were technically supposed to fly at half-staff until noon, so we started ours out at the lower setting on the flag holder and moved it up to full-staff later in the day.
My main preoccupation at the time was a day off at school. Not always a Monday to make a three-day weekend, but that last holiday before we finished up the school year. I would hear talk among the ladies at church about getting out their white shoes and purses, acceptable accessories only between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The world seemed somewhat quiet then, so there was time to allow these fashion statements to be on the list of discussion topics.
Over the years, many personal experiences have caused my world view to evolve. I remember the first time I was struck by how much I take the general feeling of freedom in this country for granted. Our next-door neighbor, Tony Kuchinski, was born in the St. Charles area. Around the time he turned 21, he decided to move to his family’s homeland, Lithuania, for a few years. Eventually he returned though; the opportunities in the United States were limitless for a man willing to work hard. He was long-retired when we moved in next door and became good friends. Tony regularly welcomed his family members from the old country for extended stays. Invariably, we spent hours sitting on his porch visiting with them.
“It is so beautiful here,” they would say. “Life is in color. In Lithuania, people walk along looking at the ground. ... Here, people look out at the world to see what’s going on.”
Back home, they worried that someone might misinterpret a look or suspect them of being involved in something unlawful. The only people I have ever worried would think I was up to something I shouldn’t be were my parents … and they generally had a right to be suspicious. I suddenly understood that government interference in personal lives is not just a movie plot.
Then the reality of serving in the face of danger truly struck when a friend’s son was killed by a roadside bomb in his third week of deployment to Iraq a few years ago.
“You open your front door and four uniformed officers are standing there … you just know,” she said.
Their hopes and dreams for his future were dashed in an instant.
This holiday’s meaning has now taken on a personal level of appreciation since my daughter joined the Army. She was commissioned as a second lieutenant on May 17, 2017. Her first assignments do not create the sense of worry I would have if she were being deployed to an unsettled part of the world. But that could change at any moment. There always simmers an underlying sense of disquiet … that is temporarily dismissed when I see her name appear on my phone signifying a quick text or a call. I am now a part of the large family of people that is in the business of maintaining our freedoms.
Not long ago, I was enjoying a bike ride along the east side of the Fox River. As I made my way back into St. Charles from the north, I rode through Pottawatomie Park. It was a beautiful afternoon. The park was crowded with delightfully diverse groups of people … picnicking, playing lawn games, rollerblading, and riding tricycles and beginner bikes. I saw what artist Georges Seurat might have envisioned 130 years ago when he painted “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” Honestly, I felt like I had jumped into that painting a la Mary Poppins and Bert.
It could be so different. We could be looking over our shoulders all the time like many do in other parts of the world. Instead, I experienced an ordinary Sunday afternoon turned special simply because I saw all those people in the park enjoying the wonderful, colorful ambiance we have in this town.
If the weather chooses to cooperate this year, half of St. Charles will line Main Street for the parade on Monday morning. After that, a tribute conducted by local veterans will take place behind city hall honoring those who gave their lives so we can have this one. I will put out my flag … the one Dad gave me for Christmas many years ago … and head off to that parade.
Thus my summer will begin, with hopes for a continued search for peace. For those that know me well, fashionista is probably not the first descriptor that comes to mind. So I will leave worries about white shoes and purses to others and spend my time enjoying grilled dinners, baseball games, picnics and bike rides … all the while anticipating the arrival of some notification on my phone distinguished by that magic word: “Maggie.”
“Slices of Life Along the Fox” is a column that runs every other week in the St. Charles Kane County Chronicle. Sandie Benhart has family roots in the Fox Valley dating to pre-Civil War days. She has lived in St. Charles and been active in TriCities life for many years. Feedback on this column can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.