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.

First Class Storytelling

first-class-storytellingFans of Ivan Doig’s storytelling will not be disappointed with his novel, Work Song. The tale picks up with the character of Morgan Llewellyn, alias Morrie Morgan, after he departs the cast of characters living in Marias Coulee in The Whistling Season.

Morrie, still mourning his loss of Rose to widower Oliver Milliron, finds his way back to Montana and the copper mining town of Butte. He takes up residence in the boarding house of the lovely widow Grace Farraday where he meets Griff and Hoop, the twin-like retired miners full of life, full of the love of mining, and full of themselves.

Morrie’s first job as a funeral crier introduces him to the woes of life for the miners and their struggle with the Anaconda Copper Mining Company and the Industrial Workers of the World. But it is his love of reading and a fortuitous trip to the Butte Public Library that lands him in the position of glorified errand boy for the enigmatic and terrifying ex-rancher turned library administrator, Samuel S. Sandison.

Before long, Morrie is dragged into the copper miners’ battle between Anaconda, the IWW, and the union all the while dodgingDoig_WS_5.indd company goons who try to peg him as an IWW agitator and Chicago mobsters still looking for him for the gambling debacle he perpetrated with his brother. As if that weren’t enough to keep him hopping, Morrie finds his plate even fuller when a former student from Marias Coulee, now engaged to the union leader, presses him into service on behalf of the union. The Latin-loving bibliophile can no longer stay neutral in the battle, but he must operate below his tyrannical employer’s unpredictable nature and ever-watching eye.

At the eleventh hour, Sandison, a large man with an even larger secret, comes to Morrie’s rescue. All is saved, yet Morrie, who has fallen in love with the Widow Farraday, knows he cannot stay in Butte for it is only a matter of time before the mob finds him. A final, well-placed bet secures the financial future for those Morrie has come to care for. His last goodbye to Grace, another widow he must leave behind, produces the best windfall Morrie experiences to date.

first-class-storytelling-3Doig’s tales of western life transcend the clichéd cowboy story. He writes from the working class point of view and evokes the joys and hardships of life in his beloved Montana. One of my absolute favorite authors, it was my sincere wish that he write a third novel summing up the lives of Morrie Morgan and the marvelous cast of characters spanning both the The Whistling Season and Work Song. Alas, with Ivan Doig’s passing in 2015, not only did his unforgettable characters lose their voice, literature lost one of the best storytellers known to man.

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