by Denise Dykstra
When our boys were very little, like being carried in a baby sling little, we would attend the Memorial Day parade in Martin and I would love it.
Now that we live in the Martin village, I love the parade even more. I didn’t think that was possible.
In the morning, I get my mug of coffee and sit on the front porch to wave at all the tractors driving into town. I’ll do this until I am nearly late to the parade, even though I never like to miss a bit of of it. I get so caught up talking to those walking into the center of town that I forget I need to get there too!
My extended family arrives, and we send kids to the school for parade lineup. They ride bikes or drive garden tractors.
My dad often drives one of his rat rod vehicles in the parade as well. My husband works with others in the village to get everyone lined up and ready for the parade to walk through town, and every year he stresses over it all — and every year it goes splendidly.
I’ve walked in the parade countless times when I worked with the library. I have driven garden tractors that was pulling a wagon with my boys in the back. I have waved to the town from the passenger seat of my dad’s vehicle. And sometimes I just stand in the crowds and watch the parade pass by with all it’s fine grandeur.
But the parade is just the beginning.
As the procession comes to its end at our beautiful, yet simple, Memorial Park, people begin to gather around the Memorial. Something will be said about the grand marshal of the year, the school band will play, a prayer will be said. A bell will be rung for every member of our community that has passed since our last gathering, and we have a moment of silence for those we miss.
And then the military will come forward. As the band plays their anthem music, our military personnel who have served or are currently serving come forward. A microphone is passed for all to give their name and who they served or serve with.
As I watch our military members come forward, I get a lump in my throat. Every single time, as I hear them pass the microphone and simply state their name and branch they serve with, I think how much there are so many stories and so many emotions. Our freedom is due to their bravery, and the thought rocks me every time.
There will be guffaws amongst the military gathered at the front of the memorial as they tease each other over who is the tougher, better branch. But they all band together, all knowing what it is to sacrifice something for their country.
A speech will be given and a blessing invoked. Cheers through the crowd will sound. Children running to play will be hushed so they hear the words spoken, see the sacrifices given. Arms will be locked around each other in the comfort of hugs, tears will be shed. Love and patriotism will abound.
I cannot write in proper words what this gathering means to me. I cannot share with you properly how my heart will swell with absolute pride in our community on this day, at this event.
The gathering will disperse and all over people are driving tractors back to the school to load up and head home. At our home, my extended family gathers for hot dogs and potato salad, the official first meal of summer. It is one of my most favorite days.
When our second son joined the Navy two years ago, I couldn’t get through the Memorial Day festivities without crying from the huge ache in my heart. I took a photo of him near the Memorial on Memorial Day knowing he would not be with us at the next year’s gathering. This year our son has the honor of walking the Parade in his Navy uniform, and my heart will nearly burst open with pride to see him there. And I will scan the crowd, and I will personally know the other military members he will be walking with. They are not unknown names to me, these others walking in the parade carrying the flags. These are the boys and girls I have baked countless chocolate chip cookies for over the years and have prayed innumerable prayers over.
We remember those who died serving.
We are the Land of the Free because of their brave souls.
This Memorial Day, I encourage you to please join in your hometown’s festivities. Or join ours, we are happy to have you! When you see our military members, please take the time to thank them. Those simple “thank you”’s go straight to their heart, those simple words carry such weight with them, and it is the least we can do for those who most often go unnoticed and unappreciated, even though they sacrifice their very livelihood for us.