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War, Peace, And Family

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Carol Bossard

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Three essays on May might well be overkill, fine month that it is, were it not for Memorial Day, the day of remembrance and celebration, just past, but still current. There are enough reasons to extend the celebration for several days; parades, the annual PBS Memorial Day programming, family picnics and visiting family graves.  There is the traditional switch to white shoes and clothing if anyone bothers to follow such customs nowadays. And since Memorial Day brings thoughts about family, about war and peace, and about heroes,there is much to consider.

One of my favorite personal memories of Memorial Day would be the parade in Victor.  I was in the high school band. Not a marching band; a concert band, but we marched in the local parades. Our uniforms were a bright blue wool with gold metallic trim, blue hats with visors and white sneakers (polished, of course). Since I played the flute, and outdoor weather isn’t great for flutes, I often played the bell lyre for outdoor events. That is a heavy instrument held by a strap over the shoulders and around the waist. It adds considerable weight to the marching; good exercise, I’m sure. Sometimes, I played the piccolo, especially if we were doing Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever,” and that was not only lighter in weight, but more fun; all those little runs up and down the “Stars and Stripes.”  The down-side of all this parading was that by the end of May, the weather was/is quite warm, and our wooly uniforms held in the heat.  One or two band members per parade, fainted. Not I, having experienced heat in the hay field, I was generally OK. And the show must go on; it was a community event where we felt good about participating.

Another memory, oddly pleasant, were cemetery walks with my mother.  There were many of her family members in the Holly/Murray, NY area (since 1827), and so there were quite a few graves.  We took flowers (sometimes even planted flowers) and walked around the pleasant, shaded grounds, reading tombstones.  She introduced me to my forebearers, annually.  There was Abner Dusett, my great-grandfather, who was a carrot farmer and his wife, Jennie Mae Allen Dusett, my grandmother Ada Weatherwax Dusett, Aunt Lovina, and many others. Sadly, there were also youngsters who succumbed to childhood diseases. I felt quite akin to all these people after a few strolls through the cemetery.

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Besides recalling family members gone on, Memorial Day is also a day for remembering our larger history.  I regard war as a foolish waste of human and monetary resources as well as a barbaric way to settle differences, get revenge, or satisfy greed.  It creates trauma for those fighting on either “side” and for those in the path of harm; “collateral damage” they call it. And yet, even with all these negatives, Memorial Day gives me a feeling of gratitude and even pride in the courage and sense of duty that pulls men and women into defense of their country. In the worst of times, we still manage to emerge intact as a nation, ready to pick up the pieces of who we are, and able to look ahead once more.

I have, tucked away in a chest, a Civil War hat from an ancestor who served in that terrible war of brother vs. brother.  My father served in WWI until he was sent home with pneumonia --- there being no antibiotics as the time to combat the disease.  Two of my brothers served in WWII, one in the Army and one in the Marines, while my third brother was considered essential for keeping the farm going.  He was also too young to enlist. In my opinion, they were all too young, but they felt that duty called!  Regrettably, I never spoke of this with my mother, perhaps one needs growing sons to empathize, but I cannot imagine the amount of stress that she bore, knowing two sons were in harm’s way for months at a time.  As I said, the “glory” of war is a matter of perspective.   

My brother-in-law served during the Korean conflict. Highschool and college friends served in Viet Nam.  Some never returned.  Those who did were sadder and wiser, or sometimes, more in despair.  One young man I knew took his own life after seeing the atrocities of that war. The sons of friends suffered, both physically and emotionally, from their service in the Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan.  No one escapes war without scars,inside as well as out. I recently saw a quotation: “All those who go to war give their lives; some all at once and some over many years.”

Some beautiful stories of heroism, of compassion and of personal growth often emerge from war experiences.  Humans can develop wisdom in almost any situation if they so choose.  But wouldn’t it be fine if combatting the power-hungry, the greedy and those with no compassion or wisdom were not a part of that growth?  Meanwhile, reality tells us that the world is as it is ---- a complicated mixture of good and bad, of upheaval and change, of dread and delight. It is for us to find paths that lead to building rather than tearing down.  And generally, being unable to change others, we must, to make a difference, change ourselves and our careless, often self-centered thinking.

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This weekend we turned the calendar page to June. June --- a month for graduates, for brides and grooms, for making hay and for contemplating the wonderful summer ahead.  Parents begin wondering what to do with their kids for the summer months.  If the kids live on a farm, this is no problem. Haying, combining, county fairs fill the days and often, summer is too short.  Summer camps are on the agenda for some. Summer programs in the arts or sciences are available if one is near a college town. Whatever the choices or lack thereof, I believe that parents may give more attention to parenting when school lets out.

Speaking of parenting, should it require a license?  Of course not, but deciding to have children should certainly inspire more thought than most couples give it. There are people who simply should not have children.  Too many young marrieds produce children because “it’s the thing to do,” and then discover that they really don’t have the inner resources for that very hard job of bringing up a child to adult-hood.  It takes a wise person to realize that motherhood/fatherhood is not in the best interest of either themselves or a child.  Of course, that situation can often change as life changes; what doesn’t work well at age twenty might be fine at age thirty-five. It is good to remember, though, and to remind young people, that adorable babies turn into obnoxious nine-year-olds, and challenging teens. And, one’s life is entwined with a child’s life forever, which can be wonderful, or debilitating, depending on the circumstances.

Kerm and I gave parenting as little thought as most young couples. We were fortunate, though, in that when one of us wasn’t doing well as a parent, the other one generally was. Toddlers weren’t my most joyous age, but Kerm played trucks and trains and blocks on the floor with them, often supervised their splashy baths and corralled them when they crawled beneath the pews at church. When they were teenagers and Kerm vanished into some adolescent-free corner of the house, I was able to find humor in their often-clueless and certainly loud, behavior. And I enjoyed listening to their developing reasoning.   There were, of course, times when both of us failed to be as aware or as available as we should have been; we made some grave errors and in looking backward, would surely make some different choices.  But mostly, we enjoyed being parents and now, we find ourselves rejoicing at the very likeable and accomplished people our sons (and most of their friends) have become.  My suggestion to parents of today is to enjoy your kids --- even on the days when you’d like to ship them off to the polar regions. Childhood passes quickly, and suddenly, they are children no more, and for a while, the house rather echoes with emptiness.

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As I glance back over May, I think it has been a good month, a month of growth, of music, moments of grief for a friend who has passed on, and days of fragrance (lilacs and lilies of the valley) and beauty as the world here grows green.  We can close out the month with a visual version of “Taps”: “May is done…”; giving us days to take an honest look at our history, what love of country means, and how important are our families.   No matter what today and tomorrow bring, our lives are wrapped intricately with those generations long gone (genetic history), with our parents who did the best they could, and with our close and immediate family.  In reviewing our nation’s history, we can be aware of the many times our country has endured crises ---and has recovered.  It is the same with families.  We have disappointments, crises occur, but we bounce back and continue on together.

And now, we look ahead to the summer month of June.  We can hope that we get just enough rain for gardens and crops, that wars diminish and that legislators suddenly overflow with common sense and civility.  But even if these things do not happen, June still comes with its days of sunshine, blue skies, festivals, weddings, roses and growing grass.  And “….together we walk onward …..beyond our vision….. into the unknown….whether the path may be steep or narrow ….wide or straight…….in sunshine or rain….it matters now because we are secure…..and moving toward greater wisdom blending in the glory of life…..and the promise of tomorrow.”*

Carol writes from her home in Spencer. She may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net.

  • From “Together We Walk” by Peter S. Seymour---- American author.
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