Carrying connections forward

May 26, 2016 Betty Starks Case

Families are the way to do it on Memorial Day

Did you know the first Memorial Day was declared following the Civil War? That poppies are among the first flowers to grow following earthly disaster?

Lesson learned -- new to me, anyway.

Of course, the primary purpose of the upcoming Memorial Day is to remember all veterans, the brave ones who put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms. Their service is selfless beyond measure. Somehow, we pull our own loved ones, both military and non, into the mix and Memorial Day becomes one beautiful time of remembering all of those who brought love and light to our lives.

Family members who served our nation and who earned our eternal thanks include my father, Steve Starks, brothers Bud (Vere), Ralph and Jim, brother-in-law Marvin Davis, uncles, cousins and nephews. And friends, always friends.

Here, I'd include my mate's nephew, Sonny (Walter) Case, whom I'd known since he was a small child about the age of my brothers. I remember Sonny returning from Navy duty, sweeping me into a hug and a wild whirling dance as if I were his big sister instead of his in-law aunt.

Ned and I always teased Sonny about the time, when he was in first grade and we high school seniors, he'd explained earnestly to his teacher, "They're going to get married."

Sonny's news was announced two years before we knew it ourselves. Love that guy.

From here, we weave non-military, but no less important members of our families into our Memorial Day honors program. Both sets of parents, brothers and sisters who've moved on, along with loved in-laws who'd become one family in so many ways through the years.

When Ned's only sister was killed in an auto accident at age 34, his mother asked me if I'd come and care for her when/if she needed it. Of course, I agreed, and did indeed fly across the country to care for her as I'd promised. His mom was like a second mother to me and a loved friend as well.

Ned's sister and I saw ourselves as siblings from the time we first met. She had pushed me, literally, into his arms after a quarrel when we were dating.

When Ned's mom neared her life's end, we learned from others later that my brother Charles had been at her hospital bedside nightly with shared prayer to help her through.

Later, when my own mother was traveling the long, slow road to recovery after a serious car accident, she said, "I wish I could see and talk with Ned's mother today. She found hope in every situation, and always something to laugh about."

We carried the connections forward. When Ned's brother and wife divorced, we kept his loved sister-in-law close in our lives. You don't have to "unlove" a person just because your relative does. She and her children remained lifelong family to us, my poetry read at her funeral.

My memories of Ned's dad took on a whole new life when he addressed me in Irish brogue one morning as "Mrs. Murphy." What could I do but respond to someone Mrs. Murphy might know? Like "Mr. Finnegan."

These delightful new characters took over while our real selves hid behind the towels, sheets and socks we hung on a shared outdoor clothesline between our homes on North First Street here in Riverton. My last words to him were a whispered, "See you Monday, Finnegan."

Last winter, when weather did not invite either of them to be outdoors where they'd prefer to be, my brother came to our home three times a week to help my mate exercise. With brother Earl only three years older than our son, you might guess "a good time was had by all."

With families so long interwoven, when we go to the cemetery on Memorial Day, how could we not come laden with flowers to remember all these precious parts of the whole?

But that's not the end of my story. Last week, Son and wife we call Daughter came to visit and add their contribution to the living part of our family remembrance. Son helped his dad on many jobs around our home as he always does. Daughter took over the kitchen and I . . . um . . . I guess I just went on vacation.

The crowning event of this pre-Memorial Day affair was an elegant dinner in our home for added family, prepared by our talented visiting chef. Our dining table dressed for the occasion with both its leaves in place beneath a soft green tablecloth and set with colorful china. The gorgeous stemmed crystal glasses that Son bought for me many years ago by sacking groceries after school in his senior high year glistened to highlight the scene.

It was a lovely evening, the kind a family can create to enjoy the living loved ones while sharing fond memories of those who've moved on.

To memorialize means "to serve as a reminder, to commemorate, and to celebrate."

Families combined with love can make the most of it.