I woke up this morning to an insistent rain and overcast skies, a fitting stage for Memorial Day. I need the stimulation that driving through the Illinois countryside gives me so I climbed in my SUV and made my way through farmland towards Minooka, about ten miles.
The fields are unplanted because the ground is saturated with moisture and some areas are under several inches of water. Nuisance plants are rising through the mud, covering some fields with an overgrowth of stemmed yellow flowers which at this early hour were still hiding themselves. Two hours later, they were a blanket of bright yellow waving with each breeze. Goldenrod? I think it’s too early for them. I have to find out the name of these flowers.
I remember –was it Carl Sandburg? — who wrote of the First World War soldiers buried just about where they died in France. He spoke of the grass that grows above the battlefield interments. In his poem, the grass speaks: “I am the grass. I cover all.” So all the casualties of all the wars lie stalled in the soil that the farmer works above them. In WWI plenty of our soldiers were farm boys who went “over there” and remained.
For many of us Memorial Day is a break in the weekly drill. We get one extra day off! Car sales, furniture clearances, and joyous parades distract us from the meaning of the day that General John Logan, a Civil War veteran (an Illinois boy) inaugurated with an iconic speech about ultimate sacrifice for freedom.
If I want to, I can imagine the yellow flowers covering our Illinois fields as the red poppies of France that once covered the battlefields or the grass that still blankets the graves of those who never returned. Memory is an important energy of the human spirit, I think. I remember now that Memorial Day was also called “Decoration Day.” As I drive home, I slowly pass a cemetery where little American flags have been placed by service groups. The colors fly singly, stuck in the grass above those who did come back. Yes, I remember now.