Memorial day, especially for the last fifteen years, has always been a special time for me because it is a day when my mom, her brother Newell, and I would go together to place flowers on the graves of our loved ones. This was a time in which we would honor and remember my dad, grandparents, and other family members and friends. But it was also something more. There are two main reasons why these "memorial day outings" were so special to me...
The first is that these "trips" were times when my mom and Newel would share stories about their childhood and life. These stories were sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic, but usually I found them to be inspiring. The stories reflected life in difficult and challenging times (pre-WWI and following) and I was always amazed by the resilience, resourcefulness, integrity, and character that these stories revealed.
Mom and Newell were two of four children who grew up in a two bed room house along with their mom and dad and one set of grandparents. The mom and dad lived in one bed room. The grandparents lived in the second bed room. Newell and his brother Randel lived and slept in a screened-in back porch. My mom slept on a cot in the hall way and her sister, Dorothy, slept on the living room couch. Growing up they walked everywhere (never had a car): grocery, church, school, work; and wore, in many cases, home-made clothes. But if, as adults, you would ask mom or Newell how they endured such poverty they would say, "We weren't poor. We had everything we needed," and they did: love, care, family, faith, community, and essential provisions. Growing up in these circumstances my mom graduated high school and then completed a 2 year business degree and did the accounting and office work for an osteopathic physician for nearly 40 years. Her sister went to college and received a degree in education and became an elementary teacher in California. Her brother Newell became an electrical engineer (and an attorney) and ran his own electrical company for over 40 years. Her brother Randal became an attorney and for many years had the honor of graduating from the University of Tulsa law school with the highest GPA that had ever been earned. Year after year, as Mom and Newel shared stories, I was reminded of how God leads (and forms) people, whose priorities are right, in amazing ways through the challenging times of life.
The second reason these memorial day trips were special to me is because they stirred within me a deep sense of gratitude. As I stood before the markers of my grandparents, father, aunts, uncles, and friends, I was always reminded (many times overwhelmed) by how fortune I was to be a part of such an outstanding, loving, and caring family. Each of these family members were people I was proud of, had learned from, and had shared life with in an incredibly loving way. In doing these Memorial day visits I am always struck by the realization of how incredibly blessed I am.
Mom and Newell are both gone now, so instead of making this annual "journey" with them, they are two of the ones I go to honor. I greatly miss these outings with my mom and her brother. But the special memories are still there. I know they will be a part of me for the rest of my life. Thank God for Memorial day. For me it is a time to pause, reflect, and and give thanks for the family and friends who have been a wonderful part of my life.
Dr. Allen Schneider is a United Methodist pastor and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist presently serving the Sapulpa and greater Tulsa communities.