For Love of Country

I’m writing my blog post for Memorial Day one day late because most Americans were busy yesterday with picnics and parades. That is certainly not a criticism, so please don’t take it as one. In fact, my hope for every person reading this post was to have been surrounded by loved ones doing the activities you enjoy. But again, quite a few of us were busy yesterday, so I hope you have time now to read what I write because it may present information of which you were not aware.

Did you know that the Civil War, which ended in the spring of 1865, claimed more American lives than any conflict in the history of the United States? The first national cemeteries were established to provide final resting places for the many soldiers who died in the war.

Americans began the practice of decorating these fallen soldiers’ graves with flowers and reciting prayers during springtime tributes in the late 1860s in various towns and cities. No one is sure where this tradition originated because different communities may have started the memorial gatherings independent of neighboring towns.

In 1966, the federal government declared Waterloo, New York as the official birthplace of Memorial Day. Waterloo first celebrated memorial services on May 5, 1866, and the town was chosen because it hosted an annual, community-wide event. All businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags.

These days, businesses stay open and Memorial Day is often seen as simply marking the beginning of summer. Most Americans wish each other Happy Memorial Day, but I’m not quite sure that’s appropriate. And at the risk of becoming a little more somber, let’s not forget that the day came out of a conflict in which brother fought against brother. Still, if I make you pause for just a moment to realize how blessed America and Americans are, then I’ll take the risk.

War is never good, and America is not perfect. But since we have Memorial Day, I’d like to offer some suggestions on how to observe it. Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts decorate the graves of local soldiers with American flags. I’m sure they’d gladly welcome non-Scouters who wish to honor the fallen.

Visit nursing homes and seek out veterans. Use caution when talking about their war experiences, but by all means, encourage them to talk about whatever interests them. Keep in mind that your own neighbors may be veterans, so offer to cut grass, cook a meal, or run errands for them. Please don’t rule out young veterans. They have needs, too. Remember, not all wounds are visible; use love and wisdom in every situation.

Don’t forget the family of soldiers who are currently serving. Your kind words and offers of assistance will go a long way. It doesn’t take a lot of money to show compassion. Babysitting, washing dishes, or simply visiting a lonely spouse will help to ease the void left by a serving soldier. And since we’re Americans, and everyone knows Americans love their pets, don’t forget to walk the dog or brush the cat of a serving soldier or elderly or disabled veteran.

Widows and widowers of fallen soldiers may be the hardest to detect especially if you weren’t already aware of the fact that she or he was married to a soldier. When you do find out, gently encourage the surviving spouse to remember their fallen loved one. Sharing memories is a great way to work through the grieving process.

When you see a stateside soldier, shake his or her hand and offer thanks for his or her service. If you’re able, offer to buy that cup of coffee he or she just ordered, the lunch he or she sat down to eat, or his or her groceries on the conveyor belt ahead of yours. And if you’re not able, consider giving your place in line to the soldier behind you.

I hope this doesn’t come across as preaching. These are just suggestions, and I’m sure you can come up with many more. The thing is, it isn’t just on Memorial Day but rather every day that we need to be serving each other. I have to remind myself more than I care to admit that I should be serving others. Memorial Day is one of those days, not unlike Thanksgiving, when I’m reminded to do just that.

When Life Gives You Lemons

When Life Gives You Lemons 3In June of 1920, Prudence Welles Mayfield picked up her nephew, John, to take him to Baltimore to live with her.   The event proved to be a difficult time for her and her sister-in-law, Collie Mercer Welles.

Collie, the midwife who delivered John, raised him from the day he was born when his mother died due to complications from childbirth. She knew the opportunity to live and attend school in Baltimore would be one she could never provide for her youngest child, but the thought of letting him go broke her heart. For Prudence, anxiety came from her insecurities about parenting her nephew when she had absolutely no experience. A dose of guilt also plagued her because she alone knew her intentions weren’t as altruistic as they appeared on the surface.

When Life Gives You Lemons 1The two women were never close and barely tolerated each other at best. The only thing they had in common was their deep, abiding love for John. They would never let him see them quarrel over his upbringing. And yet, a gentle tug of war went on just below the surface as they vied for John’s affections. Collie’s last ditch effort to lure her young son back to his family and life on the farm was the simple picnic she sent with Prudence and John for the trip to Baltimore. She hoped her good cooking, the favorite dishes John grew up eating, would produce a change of heart in the boy. Included with the meal was a Mason jar of lemonade, sweet and chilled, the perfect taste memory that would hopefully send John fleeing from his rich aunt and back into Collie’s waiting hug.

My own memories of lemonade began with that made by my Aunt Ann for family picnics. I remember she served it in a large brown crock; such an unusual container for a kid who grew up with Country Time Lemonade drink mix and Tupperware pitchers. I’ll never forget the first time I tasted Aunt Ann’s lemonade, lightly sweet and refreshing, as delicious as any food item on the picnic table at our family gathering.

The following recipe is the one that I had in mind when I wrote the above-mentioned scene. It’s every bit as wonderful as what my Aunt Ann made, and I hope you and your family will enjoy it.

Homemade Lemonade

6 – 8 large lemons, enough for 1 c of juice

1 c sugar, I use raw

1 c water

8 c water

Squeeze enough lemons for one cup of juice and set aside. Cut remaining lemons into slices to float on the lemonade. Mix the sugar and one cup of water in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is heated through. Do not boil or scorch. Allow the sugar syrup to cool completely.  Raw sugar will produce a darker syrup and a deeper yellow lemonade, but it absolutely will not alter the flavor.

To prepare the lemonade, pour the lemon juice in a large glass bowl or crock, stir in the cooled sugar syrup and the 8 c of water. Float lemon slices on the surface. Stir thoroughly, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for at least an hour in the refrigerator.

For individual servings, fill glasses with ice and a slice of lemon. Ladle the lemonade over this and serve.  For a pitcher or beverage dispenser, fill the container with ice layered with lemon slices, pour the lemonade over this, and serve.  The ice will melt into the lemonade and dilute the tangy/sweet mixture to the perfect flavor.

When Life Gives You Lemons 2

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