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Barbara's Column
May 2003 #4

Memorial Day 2003

by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News 
Friday, May 23, 2003

I always wanted to live in a house surrounded by lilac bushes.

Shortly after moving into my little cottage, I began planting: two bushes in the front, two by the back fence, one by the steps at the back door. Thought I'd use cuttings to do the west side, but never got around to it. The east side, shaded by the neighbor's tree, was too dark.

Then my neighbor trimmed the tree, and I found that two scraggly shrubs were really lilac bushes that tentatively tried to bloom again each year. Late last month she had the tree removed. Now the old bushes are covered with purple. My house is almost surrounded, and one can walk around it breathing scented air. Funny how some dreams come true with a little effort and a little luck.

There are other magical things in the yard too that weren't there for twenty years and then appeared out of nowhere: a pussywillow tree in the mini-meadow, a forsythia and two fragile trillium that also popped up when the tree was trimmed. Someone in the past did some gardening, and some plants just lay in the dark earth and waited their chance to return to the sunlight.

Maybe this answers the question, "where did all the flowers go?"

I used to think that Memorial Day shouldn't be in spring, on the perfect May weekend dedicated to life at its most colorful, most preliminary. Better to move it closer to Veteran's Day: November is a stark, unromantic time, a celebration of the actual shape of trees, of cold reality, if you like such things. I do, myself; spring is sometimes a little too pretty and naive for me. If one must think of death, of lives cut short or forced to endure the horrors of war, it's better to do it while huddled in a jacket, hands in pockets, kicking though dry fallen leaves.

I have loved my springs and autumns, my summers and winters too, for so many years. Weather and change, flowers, leaves and shifting constellations are not enough in themselves though; my seasons must be scented by, painted and drenched in freedom for me to enjoy them. If liberty were to vanish, I am sure my world would turn gray and barren and stay that way.

Maybe that's why Memorial Day is in springtime. We have to be overwhelmed by spring happiness to really appreciate those who died to make it possible. They don't get to smell the lilacs, fire up the grill, take their kids and grandkids to a ballgame. They missed so many picnics, beach days, graduations, June weddings; they missed so much of the life that most of us get to enjoy for years.

How do you say thank you to the dead?: the professional military who chose a life of service, the volunteers who responded to a country's need, the draftees who had no choice but did their best. Where did all the soldiers go? To graveyards, if their families were lucky; to someplace we can visit on Memorial Day after the parade.

Showtime is running Thornton Wilder's "Our Town," starring Paul Newman as the Stage Manager, on Memorial Day weekend.

Over most of human existence, this was the cold reality: women died in childbirth, men died in war. The Stage Manager, at the cemetery for Emily's burial, points to the graves of some Civil War veterans. "New Hampshire boys ... all they knew was the name, friends -- the United States of America ... and they went and died about it."

Then he assures us, "there's something way down deep that's eternal about every human being." With the optimism of spring, let's imagine that all who died young will get another chance to enjoy the sunshine, as my newly-resurrected lilac bushes do, now that the shade tree is gone.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.

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