I have always tended to confabulate Labor Day and Memorial Day. For one thing, it just doesn’t make sense to me that something sad, like remembering the dead, should happen just as summer is starting to show up (even if today marks the third anniversary of Ellie’s death, and summer, my birthday in fact, marked the funeral of my childhood best friend); shouldn’t the end of school be when we celebrate all the “labor” we did as school kids and some school’s out completely feeling?
When you’re a kid, you generally don’t know too many fallen soldiers and “laborers” are also an abstract concept. Nevertheless, as a kid it’s crystal clear that the beginning of summer is a good time and the end of summer is a bad time. Therefore if you’re going to have a holiday about sad things, make it at a sad time—and besides, how does it help dead soldiers if we eat corn and watermelon?
I think that if I were the ghost of a dead soldier, and I happened across a typical American Memorial Day celebration, I might think they were all happy I was gone. Not that I want a gloomy holiday, but why don’t we sit shiva and get deli if we’re honoring men and women who died so that we could remain free?
A further complication in my differentiating between Memorial and Labor Days was that, as a child, after my long internment at “camp” I was finally released at the end of summer. I had counted the days, nearly drowned, watched my counselors learn their fates from the Viet Nam draft lottery, watched one dance with manic glee to the Doors’ “Light My Fire” when he learned he was somewhere around 265 out of 365 and unlikely to be called up to the war, and so I had just returned from a private hell of my own.