This column was originally published Memorial Day 2000. I have repurposed it here, in honor of Memorial Day.
Today’s vocabulary word is “perspective.” Occasionally as we make our way through another
day, another week, another year, something happens that stops us in our tracks and makes us
think. Memorial Day is supposed to be a day that triggers that kind of reflection. Of course even
that day has become part of the yearly routine. Almost unnoticed. Certainly not given much
thought by most of us.
Memorial Day has become a day of summer’s anticipation during which we consume massive
amounts of food and drink and lie in the sun. Thus the connection to this column. This column
is about all the pleasures of food and good times. This one week it would be a good idea to put
the things we enjoy into perspective. How did we get “here” and who was responsible for
making “here” the great place it is.
There are not too many things in history - or traits of the people of our country - that we can look
at and say, with much certainty, that they were world changing events or characteristics. The
wars fought by the United States of America and the character of the people that fought them are
exceptions. Without either, the world would be a very different place.
I write this admittedly goofy column every week about cheese fries and hotdogs and mile long
buffet tables without much thought or thanks to those people that made the sacrifices that paid
for everything we have today. We as individuals are so proud of our own personal successes that
we frequently fail to realize that none of what we have today would have been possible without
that big eared kid that waved good-bye to his mom when he shipped off to fight and die in World
War II or I or any of the other wars or battles the United States has waged. I know there are
those that would argue that the purpose of some of the wars we have waged is debatable. Viet
Nam always stirs heated debate. But the men who served and died there were no less responsible
for instilling in the generations that have followed them a sense of honor and duty and courage
than were those who served in the previous campaigns.
This being a food oriented column I recently spent some time reflecting on the dinners that must
have been consumed around this country the night before a member of a family was shipped
overseas to die for us. Did their mothers know, via that 6 th sense that mothers seem to have, as
they served their sons that last meal that it would in fact be that? Did they pay extra special
attention to the way their sons held their forks, the huge amounts they ate and that they still had
to be reminded to eat their vegetables? Did they send them away the next day knowing they
would never see them again?
My generation has not had to go through the fear of the draft or the likelihood that we would - in
large numbers - be sent off to die in war. Our mothers haven’t had to face what they knew might
likely be our last meal with them. We haven’t had to go through those things because those that
came before us were strong enough to go through them for us – and those that go off to war
today volunteer to do so, so the rest of us won’t have to. The ghosts of those that have fallen sit
next to us at our picnic tables and it is – consciously or not - to them we drink. They sit there
I’m sure, reveling in the world they made possible, watching our children playing in the yard,
knowing that our children’s young lives hold as much potential as they do in no small part due to
the sacrifices our fallen heroes made.
I don’t intend for this column to leave anyone feeling depressed or even solemn. Reverence and
joy are not mutually exclusive emotions. In fact I can’t think of a place closer to heaven than a
backyard Memorial Day barbecue! We just should make sure we understand who we have to
thank for the day off and all the other wonderful things in our lives, and perhaps our lives
themselves. Don’t worry loyal readers - next week we’ll dive squarely back into the pool of
irreverence. It just never hurts to once and awhile remind ourselves who we have to thank for