For the majority of the citizenry, Memorial Day is an abstract; an extended weekend at the beach, beers around the barbecue, and checking out the sale at Home Depot. Most years I'm no different.
But passing Indiantown Gap, I pull off the highway and drive past rows of flags honoring the recent war dead and and into hundreds of acres of manicured lawn and identical stones. Their numbers astound, flowing over the gently rolling Pennsylvania landscape.
A line of Vietnam vet bikers rides through up the quiet lane. Bellies and beards overflowing, they stop and stand in a quiet circle around a small grave marker.
I stop at random and study the names, most men of my father's generation, veterans of WWII and Korea, passing after their long, productive Greatest Generation lives.
An old woman walks past me, carrying a bouquet and accompanied by her daughter and grandson. The boy empties the watering can on the flowers, then swings it overhead already bored. Her daughter looks away distracted and soon walks back toward the car calling back, 'Take all the time you want." The old woman stands alone, stooped and lost in memory.
When she walks past, I'm kneeling, photographing a small graveside flag, trying not to intrude on her privacy. When I look up, our eyes meet. Hers are rimmed with tears, and the sight unleashes a wave of grief inside me. In a moment, I'm choking back sobs.
What am I mourning? My father, gone these six years? Row after row of dead old men I never knew? Some ideal of honor and service that I'll never measure up to?
A hot spring sun beats down, and I walk through the rows, wondering what these tough old men would have to offer in the way of fatherly advice. It's a little late to ask, but I'm all ears.