Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Thanks for the liberty, and stuff

Yes, I know--I'm coming to Memorial Day a bit late.

Anyway. Over the weekend, I saw this Bon-Macy's commercial on television: people in convertibles, kids frolicking in sprinklers. The voiceover lady declared with warm pomposity, "Memorial Day...a time to remember...a time to relax..."

Me, scoffing: "A time to shop!"

VO Lady: "...A time to SHOP!"

And I've been thinking about it since, trying to parse out how I feel...wondering how I should feel. How should this make me feel?

I think first of WWII, I guess: because it was a just war; because the memorial (which, honestly, I find pretty ham-handed) was dedicated this weekend; because all the news sources and Toms Brokaw and Hanks are quick to remind us that members of that generation, Great and Merely Average, are dying at a rate of 1,100 a day. A day! I had a grandfather in each theatre: Dad's dad went ashore in Normandy, though several days after D-Day; Mom's dad roved the Pacific, performing some sort of clerical duties in the Navy; a family photograph shows him impossibly skinny and jug-eared, hunched over a typewriter with a worried look. Neither one lived to see their memorial; neither one spoke a single word about their war, in my memory. My mother told me later that her dad's only request upon returning home was that his wife never serve him stewed tomatoes again. Grampa was a legendary junk food junkie, true--but it wasn't that he'd grown weary of canned tomatoes, out at sea. It was that it reminded him of the carnage he'd seen.

What to make of it, then, the crass commercialism that's turned a day of reflection into a bargain bonanza? Should I be offended on behalf of all our granddads, the teenagers in sailor suits or olive-drab helmets who saved the world or died trying, who came home and golfed and mowed lawns and kept their nightmares to themselves? Should I be horrified, being urged to grease up the MasterCard as if it would "honor" the current crop of America's sons and daughters have volunteered themselves for George's morally ambiguous train wreck in Iraq? that the point? Did (do) these men and women fight to uphold our standards of freedom, right up to and including the big-dumb-goodnatured-Golden-Retriever qualities of the American people? Is democracy's best feature the way it entitles us to surfboards and hot dogs and bad television and good deals on bathmats and crockpots and a Free Gift With Purchase at the Clinique counter?

I really am asking, actually. Because I've been thinking about it, and I really don't know.

* * * * *

Hard to tell--after looking at these for half an hour, they're ALL him--but I think that the Wilson in the front row, far left, is my Mom's dad. Have a Snickers or a packet of corn chips in his memory, won't you?

* * * * *

At the grocery store tonight, in their display of red-white-and-blue picnic-type items for either last weekend or the upcoming Fourth of July, I saw a case of what were basically battery-operated, strobing red taillights, like a cyclist would use...except that these had American flag stickers on 'em and were labeled "Spirit of America Patriotic Flashers."

Yep. Expose yourself to democracy!

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