If I’m honest about it I would say that most Memorial Day weekends are spent doing little more than sleeping in, watching war movies, and stuffing my face with as much sausage and other BBQ’d meats as is legally allowed in the state of California. In recent years I’ve tried to do my part to honor the fallen for whom the holiday is for in the first place by sending a message to a service member overseas via one of the many websites that do that sort of thing and saying a prayer for them. But most of what I usually do on a Memorial Day weekend can be done from my comfortable indentation on the couch. Not so this year. We were all over the place. Jen’s college roommate Kerry was visiting from Florida via Bakersfield and came up to spend the weekend with us. In preparation for her arrival we redecorated our second bathroom. Well, Jen was supposed to redecorate our second bathroom, but somehow I was drafted into the project. We finished tearing down the last bits of masking tape the night before she arrived and I’m sure she appreciated the newly painted sky blue walls as much as she did the pleasant aroma of fresh paint as she brushed her teeth. Friday night after Kerry arrived, we went to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (review forthcoming).
Our first excursion of the weekend was a Saturday trip to San Francisco. From the outset it didn’t look to be a promising day. The forecast was gloomy and it was raining as we left the house, but it stopped as soon as we reached the Marin Headlands and held off for the rest of the day. Our plan was to go to the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, maybe take in the exhibits at the De Young Museum and/or the Academy of Sciences, cruise down Lombard street, check out Fisherman’s Wharf, and any other S.F. must-sees we could cram into the day. I give us a score of 7 out of 10. We lost some time wandering around the park just trying to find the Japanese Tea Garden, until I realized we were in the wrong end of the park. However, after driving past them three times on the same road we did discover that there are buffalo in Golden Gate Park. Bet you didn’t know that did you? We didn’t make it to any of the museums, but we did have lunch at Mel’s diner. Which would you rather enjoy, a Monet or a patty melt? Yeah, me too. After lunch we went to Pier 39.
Ok, this isn’t a racist statement or anything, just an observation, but there were a ton of Indians there. As in from India. I bet every third person we saw on the wharf was Indian. I’ve been to San Francisco and the wharf countless times and I don’t recall ever seeing so many Indians. Does the American Memorial Day weekend coincide with an Indian holiday? My theory is that this increase of Indian tourists is due to the rise of India as an increasingly prosperous industrial nation. Anyway, I just found it interesting (bet you didn’t expect to find a global-economic commentary here today. The Life of Ando is full of surprises).
While on the pier, Lily was sporting her very stylish sunglasses and was gawked at by several well meaning wharf walkers (Indian and otherwise) and even had her picture taken by a random European couple. While on the pier we ate authentic Boudin sourdough bread, “fresh” from the 150 year old mother dough, check out the sea lions sunning themselves, and marvled the biggest biologically altered starwberries any of us had ever seen. When we’d had our fill of the docks, we made our way home, meandering through the city, including the crookedest street in the world, and a very, very nice neighborhood right on the southwest cliffs of the city whose view out their back windows would look something like this:
Sunday we laid low, giving Lily a chance to recover after a busy day out. She did remarkably well, by the way. I don’t remember her ever crying except when she was hungry.
Monday morning, I decided that I would go to the Memorial Day ceremony down at the cemetery. I hadn’t been to one since I was a kid and decided I owed it to our fallen vets to pay my respects. I’m glad I did. The cemetery was awash in red, white, and blue with over 1000 flags planted on graves of vets or flying high. They had brought in several vintage military vehicles including several restored jeeps and a halftrack. There was also an armored personnel carrier of the type they use now and some members of the local national guard unit, most of whom are currently serving in Iraq, to explain it to people. There were, not surprisingly, a lot of veterans in attendance with their hats, jackets, and t-shirts proclaiming which war they served during or what branch and unit they were in. Everything from WWII to Iraqi Freedom was represented. A troop from the local Coast Guard post was on hand standing at parade rest throughout the ceremony except when a color guard of old Marines in their dress blues raised the flag. A men’s choir sang the national anthem and when they did all at once right hands of men from all over the crowd snapped into a salute. That actually gave me goosebumps. The ceremony was emceed by an 84 year old WWII Navy man who is still as spry as ever. The speaker was a veteran of the Marines in WWII and then the Army in Korea and Vietnam. He served for over 30 years and gave a good speech about the sacrifices made by those who didn’t return home. The service ended with the playing of Taps and a 21 gun salute, one of which was fired by my friend and cardiaclly challenge softball teammate Jim, who many of you have read about before. Jim served in the Army and is a member of the local American Legion chapter. Afterwards, I walked around the cemetery snapping pictures. But the highlight of my weekend was getting to meet and shake hands with three Pearl Harbor survivors. The first was Jesse Love, the chaplain for the aforementioned American Legion chapter. I walked up to him as he was leaving the covered area where the podium was and as I did I started to get really nervous. As he approached where I was I stretched out my hand and said, “Would you mind if I shake your hand? Its not everyday you get to shake the hand of a Pearl Harbor survivor.” At least that’s what I tried to say, but I was nervous and got all tongue tied so I don’t know how it actually sounded, but he must have gotten the point because he said, “Well, you’re shaking one now.” The other two I met were Tom and Dick (I guess Harry wasn’t available). Don’t those just sound like names guys had back in those days? I saw them talking together after the ceremony, with their bemedaled garrison caps and Hawaiian shirts on, Tom standing with a cane and Dick sitting next to his walker. I started and stopped going up to them about three times before I finally got up the courage. I noticed a break in their conversation and went for it. I shook their hands and repeated my “Its not everyday” line to which Tom replied “Clean living, that’s how you do it.” I assume he meant to live as long as he has that’s the way to go. I asked if they’d mind if I had my picture taken with them. A woman sitting next to Dick, a daughter or granddaughter perhaps, offered to take the picture. That’s Tom standing next to me (I’m the one not wearing glasses) and Dick sitting down.
I talked with Tom for a little bit after the picture. He was in the Navy on an escort carrier. He wasn’t on duty when the attack started, but had gone up on deck to have a smoke when the bombs started to fall. I asked him how old he was and he told me he was about 20. I told him that I’m sure I was just goofing off too much when I was 20. He laughed. I thanked them again and went on my way thrilled to have met three men who I would consider to be my heroes. I will definitely be making this trip a yearly habit.
The rest of Memorial Day was spent with Jen, Lily, and Kerry out at Pt. Reyes. We went to the lighthouse out there and observed the happy cows on the many dairies out there on the coast. Then I took the girls on a forced march out to chimney rock, which itself wasn’t all that impressive, but the hike, er, march, was worth it. They even said so once they caught their breath. Except for Lily. She fell asleep in the snuggly for most of the march.