By Piper Bayard

My family will gather at the graves today. As I think on The Ones Who Have Gone Before, echos of laughter, adages, card games, and dipped chocolates bring them to life from the mists of my memory. Each of them played a part in making me who I am.

Of them all, though, there is one in particular who I am remembering this Memorial Day Weekend. I’ve heard that we often forget what people say and do, but we never forget how we feel when we are with them. When I remember my cousin, Lee, I feel loved, safe, and happy.

I said good-bye to Lee at the airport in 1967. The year America’s graduating class went to Viet Nam. I was three years old. I called him Spook because he was born on Halloween. He called me Skunk. Probably because I was three years old.

I didn’t understand much about what was happening over there or what those little silhouette figures of bodies were on the evening news each night. But I did understand how happy we all were when he came home.

For him, the war was over except for whatever memories he would need to resolve. He married a beautiful young woman who also radiated love, safety, and laughter. His foundation for a good life was well-laid, and the world was in front of him.

When we got the phone call shortly after their marriage, it was the first time I ever saw my father cry. “He’s not dead, yet,” he said as he hung up the phone, and my mother took him in her arms.

I ran to my friend’s, and we hid in the bushes behind her house, trying to make sense of what it meant to die of cancer. It was only a few months until the funeral. I wouldn’t know for years that it was most likely due to the Agent Orange.

Somehow, I ended up with his black mohair sweater. I probably pulled it out of a box destined for Goodwill. I needed some token. Some cocoon that would wrap me in the love, safety, and happiness that I always felt when I was with him. Unless my family reads this blog, they will never know my daughter’s middle name is in his honor.

We hear a lot about Special Forces, Navy Seals, and Green Berets, but most of our veterans are none of those. They are like Lee. Men and women who answer their country’s call. They do their duty, often risking their lives. Often losing them. The ones who survive grow and change, collect their scars, and move on as best they can without any lauds or fanfare.

To all veterans, thank you for your service. Like the faces from the mists of my memory, I would not be who I am and have the life I have without you.

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Today, I’m heading to Vancouver Island with my family, leaving our house sitter, Parker, in charge of our turtle and guinea pig for the next two weeks. Since I will have no telephone and only spotty internet, I wish you well now. Holmes and I will return on June 10. Have a great two weeks!

All the best to all of you in building memories of love, safety, and laughter.