Friday, May 22, 2009

Memorial Day

I would like to pay tribute to a couple of the men in our family who gave their lives in defense of their country. Being a student of our family history, I have seen what price their immediate families have paid as a result of their service, and as a result, have a much better appreciation for our military men and women, and their families.

Delbert Dee Graves, 1891 - 1918, died in World War I, in France. He was the only son of Thomas and Nettie Graves. He joined the American Expeditionary Forces (aka "Doughboys") on June 27, 1918, and was assigned to Co. H of the 351st Infantry. After training, he was sent overseas to England on Aug. 28, 1918, and then to France shortly afterward. He worked in difficult circumstances, cold and damp, and his mother would knit him sweaters because he just could not keep warm enough in his surroundings. As a result he contracted an illness which led to scarlet fever, and died in a makeshift military hospital in France. He was buried in France, but a few years later was brought home to a hero's welcome in his small town of Carthage, South Dakota, and buried in Pleasant View Cemetery. The American Legion Post in Carthage was named in honor of him. Delbert was my great-grandmother's younger brother; he had worked as a drayman, carpenter and farmer, in conjunction with his father, and enjoyed raising hounds.

Raymond Christensen, 1914 - 1944, was killed in action in World War II. He interrupted his education at the University of Minnesota to enlist, and enrolled in officers training school in Florida. He was a flight officer in the 417th Night Fighter Squadron. He was one of a crew of two in an English Beau Fighter, and flew some of the most dangerous missions in the war. He was initially listed as Missing in Action, but his status was later changed to Killed in Action over Sicily, on May 13, 1944. He is still remembered for his wit and humor. He sold insurance policies while he put himself through school at the University of Minnesota and the St. Paul Agricultural College. He was a masterful practical joker. He was my grandmother's younger brother, and my grandfather's best friend.

Delbert and Raymond's families bore tremendous pain and long-lasting implications at the loss of their sons/brothers, as do the families of all fallen soldiers. It's so easy to forget that this holiday is more than a three-day weekend, filled with camping, fishing, cookouts, etc. It's a day to remember and honor these men, and their families who paid a huge price for all we enjoy in the U. S. today. Take some time to remember all of them with gratitude.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday, Grandma Lill!

Whenever this day rolls around, it's a little bittersweet for me, but when I start thinking about all the wonderful things Grandma Lill left us with I can't help but smile and realize she was one of the sweetest gifts from God. She is present in every one of my days, despite the fact that I can't hear her voice or see her face - but I can feel her soul.

I don't think I will ever look at a flower without remembering her taking my little five-year-old hand, and walking me around her beautiful yard, showing me every flower and telling me it's name, and taking all the time in the world while I marveled at the shapes and colors.

I don't bake anything without remembering standing up to her kitchen table, rolling out pie crusts on bread wrappers, or taking incredible-smelling cookies out of the oven, and her saying that Grandpa works so hard, we have to take care of him because he takes such good care of us, and that wonderful feeling of value and worth and love that my little heart felt from that simple act of baking cookies.

I can't see a soap operat on TV without, just for a brief second, being transported back to the living room on a warm summer day, when Grandma first started letting me watch soaps with her rather than booting me outside with the little kids; I can almost see her curled up on the couch, barefoot, and me in the chair next to her; and her telling me about Bob Hughes' long, sordid history and all the women on the show he's been married to, with an almost naughty glee in her voice, but then pointing out that that's not the way nice people live!

Sometimes a little wisp of an old song will seem to pop into my head for no apparent reason - "Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley," or "Little Brown Jug," or "Yellow Rose of Texas"... I know it's not coincidence, it's Grandma singing in my ear, with me sitting next to her at the piano, showing me where to put my fingers on those rich ivory keys, while Grandpa tooted on his saxophone, and I remember the delight I felt when what *I* was doing, what Grandma was doing, and what Grandpa was doing all came together into one unbelievably lovely and unique sound, something special none of us could have created alone.

I remember her spreading out the newspaper on the floor, and tracing around my Barbie to make a pattern for a skirt; the indignant feeling I had when she made me turn the wheel on the sewing machine by hand, and the scary thrill when she let me use the electricity for the first time, as I envisioned stitches made firmly across my finger if I went too fast, just like she'd warned.

I can't see a pimple without thinking about that poor unfortunate school chum of hers - the one who squeezed the pimple on Friday, and was dead on Monday...

I can't say a bad word without tasting those rocks and dirt that were coming out of my mouth...

She's here every time I make baking powder biscuits, every time I say something snotty to my husband ("ta-Ta-ta-Ta-ta-Ta!") and every time I make an ugly face ("It's going to stay that way!"). When she left us, she didn't leave us. She nestled herself firmly in our hearts and souls and personalities.

Have a wonderful birthday, Grandma Lill, whatever you're doing. I hope you're remembering these wonderful times too.