A Day For Those Who Served

Power Day:  59th Ordnance Brigade recognizes achievement

Memorial Day comes very early this year, but for a grateful nation it is never too early to appreciate those who have served on behalf of their country.  On this day, we take time to remember the selfless men and women who have fallen, and to recognize those who are serving yet today.  We say thank you to the soldiers and sailors, to the Marines, the Air Force pilots, and the Coast Guard captains, and — because it is the 21st century, after all — to the members of the newest branch of the U.S. military, to the members of the U.S. Space Force.

Thank you for all you have done and are doing to keep our nation safe and strong!

A Taste of Grilling History

Memorial Day is probably more identified with outdoor grilling than any other day on the modern American calendar.  So . . . exactly when and how did Americans become so enamored with outdoor cooking, anyway?

weber1aOf course, humans have been cooking outdoors since the discovery of fire by our primitive ancestors tens of thousands of years ago, before the dawn of recorded history.  But in the ensuing millennia, outdoor cooking didn’t advance much beyond the basics of skewering a piece of meat on a metal spit and turning it over flames or coals until the fat dripped off — which wasn’t exactly well-suited to people cooking for their families.

Charcoal has been made since the early days of human civilization, and had been used for smelting, blacksmithing, and other industrial processes.  After the individual charcoal briquet was invented in the 1890s, people tried cooking outside on various flimsy devices, but the traditional problems that are familiar to any outdoor cook — food that is burnt on the outside and undercooked on the inside, thanks to poor temperature control — was a constant problem, and as a result outdoor cooking remained unpopular.

In 1952, George Stephen, a welder at the Weber Brothers Metal Works in Chicago, came up with the idea for the first modern outdoor grille.  Apparently inspired by marine buoys, he devised a sturdy, stand-alone kettle grille with a lid for temperature control.  Later, the Weber grille design with the familiar dome was introduced, and the gas grill was invented in 1954.  Those inventions coincided with the development of the American suburb, the Baby Boom, and the rapidly growing American economy in the years after World War II and the Korean War, and soon every American household had its own outdoor grill on the patio of their suburban home.  It was just natural that the first big grilling weekend would be the Memorial Day weekend, when the improving weather marked the start of the outdoor grilling months.

Any kid who grew up in the ‘burbs in the ’50s or ’60s remembers sitting at a picnic table eating cheeseburgers and hot dogs cooked by the Dads in the neighborhood who were clustered around their grills — typically while they wore embarrassing cooking outfits and swigged Budweisers — while the Moms brought out the potato salad and buns and condiments and sported brightly colored cat-eye sunglasses.  There’s a reason why the Monkees sang about “charcoal burning everywhere” in their ode to the generic American suburb, Pleasant Valley Sunday.

Of course, grilling has advanced since then, but the association of Memorial Day with outdoor cooking remains strong.  On this Memorial Day, grill on, America!

Working For The Three-Day Weekend

In the distant, early days of Homo sapiens, there was no concept of “work” in the modern sense, and thus there were no holidays, either. Every day involved its many toils, from hunting and gathering to working to find shelter and water and protection against predators.

Then, as civilization developed, designated jobs became an inevitable part of the process. No city could exist without people charged with performing essential functions like laboring in the fields to bring in the crops, delivering food from the countryside, serving as scribe for Pharoah, or building the new pyramid or ziggurat.  The concept of holidays came later still. First, there were only religious holidays or seasonal holidays, to mark the Feast Day of Set or commemorate the harvest with a day of celebration. In the medieval era, when a saint’s day arrived, the duties of the job were replaced by lengthy religious obligations and, perhaps, fasting and the ritual wearing of a hair shirt.  It wasn’t exactly a laugh riot.

As humanity advanced even more, the concept of a work week was introduced and, then, secular holidays. When some brilliant soul realized that secular holidays really didn’t have to be tied to a specific date on the calendar and instead could float — so that the holiday could combine with a normal weekend to create a three-day weekend — it was a huge step forward in human development. And when an even more enlightened individual realized that we could use those three-day weekends to bookend the summer months, so that the joys of summer could begin with a glorious three-day revel in the warmth, it marked a true pinnacle in the annals of human achievement.

As we celebrate the joys of this three-day Memorial Day weekend, let’s remember those forgotten figures of human history who came up with the ideas that led us here — and be grateful that wearing sweaty hair shirts isn’t part of the equation.

Happy Memorial Day!

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We’ve had a beautiful weekend in Columbus, with sunny, clear weather and a traditional cookout yesterday.  With the arrival of Memorial Day, though, it’s time to take a step back and think for a while about the reason for this three-day weekend, and the men and women whose sacrifices in the service of their country helped to safeguard the many freedoms that we enjoy.

When I was a kid, Grandma and Grandpa Neal took UJ and me on a trip to Washington, D.C.  We visited Arlington National Cemetery, with its long, quiet rows of white crosses, and the Iwo Jima Memorial and its depiction of the stirring photograph of a flag-raising effort on Mount Suribachi during one of the bloodiest battles in World War II.  Those visits made a tremendous impression on me, and on days like Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Veterans Day I turn back to those awed, hushed memories and reflect on how many have served, and how well.

The inscription at the base of the Iwo Jima Memorial reads:  “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.”  It’s a fitting point of reference on this Memorial Day.

A grateful thank you to those who served, and those who serve still.  Happy Memorial Day!

Happy Memorial Day!

The east side of the Ohio Statehouse features the Ohio veterans plaza.  It consists of two curved stone walls that face each other from opposite ends of the plaza, two fountains, and two grassy rectangles with room for flowers and plenty of Ohio flags that can be put in place for a holiday weekend.

The stone walls are adorned with snippets from letters written by Ohioans who were serving in the different wars in which America has fought.  It’s a simple yet elegant reminder of one unifying reality for all of the soldiers and sailors, regardless of when or where they fought:  they left home in service of their country, and as they put themselves in harm’s way they wanted to let the family back home that they were okay, that they accepted the cost of their service, and that they hoped to make it back home when their service was done.

This weekend they’ve also put up a simple wreath at the northern end of the plaza.  It’s a good place to reflect on the sacrifices of those who have served and to inwardly express our appreciation to them for making our current lives possible.

Profound thanks to all of our veterans, and happy Memorial Day to everyone!

That Wonderful Start-Of-A-Three-Day-Weekend Feeling

Today the French Wrestling Fan and I went to lunch at Milestone 229, a restaurant on the Scioto Mile.  We ate outside on a beautiful day, with a prime view of the cool outdoor fountains located next to the restaurant.

While we sat there a young girl took her shoes off and ran out to the fountain area.  She had a ball walking barefoot through the water, scuffling her feet and sending sprays of water into the air.  Her innocent fun captured the kind of giddy, fabulous feeling we all get on the cusp of a three-day summer weekend.  

It was all I could do to resist taking off my shoes and walking through the water, too.  We might need to do some barefooting this weekend, however.

Working On The Friday Before The Memorial Day Weekend

It’s the Friday before the Memorial Day weekend, the first big three-day weekend of 2016.

The Martin Luther King Day and President’s Day three-day weekends don’t really count, do they?  They come during the winter when the weather stinks and it’s not much fun to go outside.  The Memorial Day weekend is different.  Now, people want to get outside and get going.  The traveling types want to hit the road, even though they know the traffic will be a pain, and get to their destination at the beach or the mountains or the national park as quickly as possible.  The stay-at-homers are looking forward to partying with friends and family, grilling out, playing catch, and swimming at the public pool on its opening weekend.  And everyone, whether they are staying or going, is looking forward to donning sunglasses and putting on shorts and drinking a cold beverage in warm sunshine.

empty-office-007We’re on the verge of the unofficial beginning of summer.  You can feel it in your bones, and today you’ll feel it in your workplace, too, as you walk past lots of empty offices and darkened cubicles and overhear co-workers talking about their fun weekend plans and see them anxiously looking at clocks and watches  and cell phones .

I’ve always thought the Fridays before the Memorial Day weekend and the Labor Day weekend are two of the toughest working days of the year.  If you’re smart and have the seniority, you take a vacation day and enjoy that magical four-day weekend.  If you’re a marginal employee, or worse, you wake up this morning and somehow convince yourself that you can plausibly call in sick on one of the days when workplace absenteeism undoubtedly is at its peak.  But if you’re a solid, responsible adult like the rest of us, you show up for work today, accept that it’s part of the job, and feel like a kid on the last day of school, just waiting for the bell to ring telling you that you can run out the school doors without coming back for three months.

I look at it this way:  working on the Friday before Memorial Day just makes the three-day weekend all the sweeter.

Thank You

The Revolutionary War.  The War of 1812.  The Civil War.  The Spanish-American War.  World War I.  World War II.  The Korean War.  The Vietnam War.  The Gulf War.  The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

So many wars — and those are just the ones that have official names.  In between there have been countless smaller conflicts and instances of service, where members of the armed forces have fought against the Barbary pirates, or rescued hostages, or delivered crucial supplies to survivors of hurricanes or earthquakes.  And in the middle of it all has been the individual Americans serving in the Navy, the Army, the Marines, the Air Force, or the Coast Guard, who have safeguarded our shores, fought against the oppressors, and delivered help in times of need — and often made the ultimate sacrifice.

To those who have fallen, to those who have served, to the veterans and to the active members of the armed forces:  Thank you.

Memorial Day Money-Making

Memorial Day is one of the great American holidays.  It’s also widely recognized as one of the biggest driving weekends of the year, as people kick-start their summer with visits to relatives or a long weekend at a beach or lake.

So . . . why do our uniformed friends want to make the weekend painful for patriotic American motorists by looking to hand out speeding tickets by the bushel basket?

On our drive from Columbus to Cleveland on Friday afternoon every conceivable law enforcement representative — from the Ohio Highway Patrol with their spiffy gray muscle cars, to helmeted and booted motorcycle cops, to “County Mounties” and local police officers, seemed to be out on the road, aiming their radar guns at motorists.  It’s weird and unnerving to see a uniformed person pointing a gun-like device your way, and it aggravates an already stressful driving experience.  The roads are clogged as it is, and the immediate braking when a patrolman comes into view just adds to the congestion and the hassle.

Many people theorize that there are speeding ticket quotas each month that officers need to meet to help bring money in to governmental coffers, and therefore you’re more likely to see police stopping speeders and handing out tickets at the end of the month than at the beginning.  I’m not sure about that, but Kish and I saw more police officers out on I-71 on our drive up on Friday and back this morning than we’ve ever seen before.

I recognize that we can’t have people playing Max Max on our highways, but is it really necessary to send every officer of the peace in the Buckeye State out to hand out tickets?  How about letting us celebrate Memorial Day without getting hit with a fine?

Remember The Reason

 

 

This morning I bought a poppy — an artificial one, to be sure, but the sentiment was there nevertheless — from a vet wearing a VFW cap standing at the corner of Broad and Third.  The red poppies remind us that Memorial Day isn’t just about a three-day weekend and cookouts, it’s about a lot more.

This weekend, take a moment to remember, then thank a vet.

The Best Way To Say Thank You On Memorial Day

On Memorial Day, we remember those who have given their lives that we might live in freedom and we express our gratitude to those who have served on our behalf.

This Memorial Day, what better way to say thank you to those who have perished, those who have served in the past, and those who are serving now than to ensure that we show our appreciation in tangible ways when their service has ended?  That means hiring veterans and helping them when they have returned to civilian life, thanking members of the military whenever we see them, and — above all — committing our nation to providing a Veterans Administration that serves our returning veterans as capably as they have served this country.

The current VA scandal is shameful.  Fixing the VA and its broken culture so that our veterans receive prompt and top-quality medical care is not a political issue, it is a matter of fulfilling a fundamental moral obligation.  Whether we do it by cleaning house from the VA secretary on down, getting rid of administrators who think it is appropriate to falsify data and cover up the terrible failings at their facilities, and starting over, or by scrapping the VA hospital and medical system entirely and giving veterans coverage that allows them to receive medical care from the same hospitals and doctors as the rest of us, we must do something to solve this problem.  We should thank the whistleblowers who called attention to the VA’s problems, and we should hold President Obama and his Administration accountable and demand that they stop the endless studies and act.

On this Memorial Day, we thank our veterans and men and women in uniform, but the best thank you is for the United States to fix a broken system that has let our veterans down.

Memorial Day Is Too Early This Year

You should never look a federal holiday — or a gift horse — in the mouth.  Still, I think that Memorial Day is coming way too early this year.

It falls on May 26, to be exact.  I was blissfully unaware of this until today, when I started to notice that co-workers and colleagues were fleeing Columbus for parts unknown and overheard people happily talking about the “upcoming holiday weekend.”  Holiday weekend?  What holiday weekend?  Huh?  Memorial Day?  Wait . . . how?  It’s too early!

Memorial Day should be reserved for one of the very last days in May.  Ideally, the  31st, or at least the 30th.  You’re supposed to grill out in shorts on a hot day, think appreciatively of the sacrifices of those who have sacrificed so much for the country, and then slide immediately into June and the true summer months.  To have May last for five more days after Memorial Day is very weird and just . . . wrong.

I’ll try to enjoy the holiday, anyway.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands, we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

In Flanders Fields was written by a Canadian battle surgeon, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, M.D., during the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915.  It was one of the most terrible, bloody, senseless battles in a terrible, bloody, senseless war, as poison gas drifted across the trench lines and tens of thousands of soldiers were killed or wounded during days of fighting.  The poem McCrae wrote captures the physical and emotional exhaustion he felt — yet still McCrae wanted others to fight to ensure that the dead did not die in vain.  McCrae ultimately died, of pneumonia, during the early days of 1918 as World War I dragged on with no apparent end in sight.

McCrae’s poem, and its duality, is worth remembering on this Memorial Day.  We cannot drop the torch, but we need to make sure that the torch is carried forward into battle only when our national security truly requires it.  We cannot afford to senselessly bury young men and women beneath Flanders Fields.

Happily On The Cusp Of A Three-Day Holiday Weekend

The work week is done, and the three-day weekend is almost begun.

Is there any better feeling than to be on the cusp of a three-day holiday weekend?  Particularly when the three-day holiday weekend is Memorial Day, which means that summer is here?  Even more particularly when there is almost nothing scheduled for the weekend except golf and get-togethers with old friends?  And, most particularly of all, when the weather is supposed to be sunny and hot, well-suited to grilling and chilling?

The fabulous thing about the cusp of a three-day weekend is the enormous sense of possibility.  The three days yawn before us, ready to be filled however we desire.  Perhaps tomorrow morning we’ll do some outdoor reading, before it gets too warm.  Or we might stretch out on the outdoor lounge chair, listen to the birds, and doze in the shade of a tree.  Some time on the practice range might be in order, and staying up later than normal to watch movies sounds like fun.  The options are virtually limitless.

The three-day Memorial Day weekend is one of the greatest American inventions.