Monday, 25 May 2015

Memorial Day Traditions

My husband and I are commemorating Memorial Day, which is today in the United States, by taking a road trip with my brother and his wife to explore a slice of our family history in West Virginia. In 2010 my youngest brother emailed and asked if we'd be interested in taking a trip together over Memorial Day weekend. He and he wife wanted to go to Asheville, North Carolina, and thought it would be an equi-distant location for both of us as they live in northern Alabama and we live in northern Virginia. My husband and I thought it would be fun as it had been years since either of us had been to Asheville.

Since I spent a great deal of my working life as a project manager and am used to thinking of my very accomplished baby brother, who is 10 years younger than me, as a child, I began planning our trip. We stayed in a lovely cabin about 30 minutes north of Asheville in the mountains. The driveway was dirt road to an old mica mine and the place was sure hard to find. There was a donkey in a field at the end of the paved road. We knew exactly how many times my brother had driven by the turn in the dark because the rascally donkey brayed every time a car went by. No cell phone reception made it very entertaining.

Our cabin north of Asheville, North Carolina; photograph taken by me

Burglar alarm (on the right); photograph taken by me

My brother and his wife at a restaurant in the Grove Arcade area of
downtown Asheville; photograph taken by me

2010 Asheville, North Carolina photo album

Over Thanksgiving that year, we all gathered at Mom and Dad's and were sitting around the kitchen table discussing the states we'd visited. I started keeping a list. None of us had seen much of New England (and I'd lived in Massachusetts for six months!) so our next Memorial Day trip was hatched. I called it the Great New England Driving Vacation because we hit Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont over the holiday weekend. My husband was the designated driver and logged almost 2,000 miles. My brother and his wife flew up and off we went. Our nephew, who is in the Coast Guard, was stationed at Point Judith, Rhode Island, so we stopped where they lived first, got to meet our new grand nephew, and later met them in Portsmouth, New Hampshire at their camping ground. He was wonderful to make that trip to visit with us.

My sister-in-law, brother and husband in Newport,
Rhode Island; photograph taken by me

Cornish-Windsor bridge; photograph taken by me

Point Judith lighthouse; photograph taken by me

2011 Great New England Driving Vacation

After two trips a tradition was born, right? Well, I thought so. We planned our 2012 trip, destination Halifax, Nova Scotia. We wanted to see the Bay of Fundy and those amazing tidal changes and all things World War II related.

But 2012 was a year of sadness. Dad had a cerebral hemorrhage in 2002 months before turning 71. 75% percent of cerebral hemorrhages are fatal. Dad beat those odds and bounced back in ways one could never imagine. He was not paralyzed but had aphasia -- the inability to process language and in some case even speak. After months of speech therapy and working with Mom every morning after breakfast with flashcards, Dad got back to almost normal. It was hard to remember what had happened to him. Only a misused word or when he got quiet when there was a lot of background noise because he could no longer understand the conversation made you remember. The other bad statistic about cerebral hemorrhages, or strokes for that matter, is most people suffer another within 5 years. We got ten.

Dad began have small bleeds in early May of 2012. His mental decline was so gradual that he really didn't think anything was wrong. Yet, there was. Things got tense between he and Mom as she would try to talk about the issues and he would fuss at her for making a mountain out of a mole hill. He resented the appointment with his neurological doctor and rejected his assessment. My husband and I elected not to go to Halifax and visited Mom and Dad instead. We began driving to North Carolina more frequently every time Mom called for help; she was distraught many times. The week after Thanksgiving Dad had a massive cerebral hemorrhage which took his ability to speak, understand others, and paralyzed his right side. After several months of grueling speech, occupational and physical therapy, Dad had improved but needed constant care. After his rehabilitation had plateaued, Mom decided it was time to move to an assisted living facility where they could be together.

Mom and Dad at our condo in Indian Beach, North
Carolina five months before Mom died; photograph by me

No Memorial Day trip was planned that year. We were all in New Bern, North Carolina, spending time with Mom and Dad.

A tradition dies after being ignored for two years, right? Not so. In 2014 my husband and I drove south and joined my brother and his wife for a trip to Warm Springs, Georgia, to visit Franklin Roosevelt's southern White House and learn the history of the polio work that was done there. We even met a lovely elderly gentlemen who worked at Warm Springs and knew the president. We saw him interviewed in the Roosevelt mini-series later on television. We also toured the Infantry Museum at Fort Benning and enjoyed the river walk in Columbus, Georgia.

Franklin Roosevelt's Southern White House; photograph taken by me

Portion of the Medal of Honor Exhibit at the Fort Benning Infantry Museum;
photograph taken by me

Factory tour where my brother works as the head of
product development and quality; photograph taken by me

2014 Southwest Georgia Tour Album

We just got back from our 2015 trip to southern West Virginia. So I believe our tradition is on solid ground now. We toured the Cold War-era bunker at the Greenbrier Hotel, an underground coal mine in Beckley, drove parts the Coal Heritage Trail, and photographed my great grandfather's headstone, which is located at Iaeger Memorial Cemetery in McDowell County, West Virginia.

What's on tap for next year?...we're talking about a Kentucky/Tennessee Bourbon distillery tour. We take in all the hotspots!

Mom's most deeply held wish was that my brothers and me would remain close after she and Dad were gone. I know that is Dad's wish, too, though he cannot verbalize it now. I think our nascent tradition is part of the glue that makes those wishes a reality. And my middle brother, who I call Saint Ted, well, he's a story for a different day.

These are probably non-traditional Memorial Day commemorations, but oh so special. I believe our country's soldiers, sailors and air men and women allow us opportunities to make these special memories with our loved ones because they maintain our way of life when it is threatened, especially those who gave their lives. Making memories is my family's way to honor them -- and by giving back to our military community. I recently retired and am looking forward to the start of my volunteer work with Fisher House Foundation.


  1. Great time for learning history. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I enjoyed this post so much. So many levels of wonderful. Thank you.


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