There are sights, sounds, and smells that instantaneously transport me back in time some fifty-odd years, back to my childhood. And for some reason, so many of these mental touchstones are associated with spring or early summer, the days when Nature has completed its awakening.
Some days ago - it was a warm, pleasant Sunday morning - Dee and I had taken a walk to the Local Bagel and Smoked Fish Emporium and back, a round trip of some two and a half miles. On the way we passed a few patches of fragrant honeysuckle, the combined sight and smell of which brought me back to the days when, as free-range kids, we would walk past hedges festooned with honeysuckle blossoms. We would pluck the flowers and, gently tugging at their bases, would extract their pistils, a drop or two of sweet, delicately perfumed nectar clinging to their tips.
Yesterday evening, after supper, we took a stroll around the neighborhood. (When I was growing up, our neighborhood’s streets all ran at right angles, so one could walk “around the block.” In our Atlanta suburb, however, there are no orderly, rectangular blocks. The streets go every which way, with loops and culs de sac. So I suppose we took a walk around the loop.)
As the sun began to dip below the horizon, we began seeing the intermittent flashes of fireflies. First one... then another, then another, until the Morse code of yellow glows became almost continuous static. And suddenly I was a ten-year-old again, seeing the world through curious, wondering eyes.
This year, Memorial Day coincided with the second day of Shavuot, the Jewish Festival of Weeks, AKA the Festival of First Fruits, AKA the Season of the Giving of the Law. It’s not entirely commonplace, this particular superposition of holidays. The last time it took place was a mere three years ago, on a day that also happened to be my father’s eighty-seventh birthday. But the time before that was back in 1985, and before that, 1971.
Nevertheless, it is a felicitous combination. In the United States, as elsewhere in the Diaspora, the second day of Shavuot is one of the four days during the year that the Yizkor service is held, a service of remembrance for departed loved ones. It is a service that fits hand-in-glove with the overarching theme of Memorial Day, the day on which Americans remember those who died while serving their country in the military.
Although several of our relatives served in the United States armed forces - my father, my uncle Phil, Dee’s father Bill and stepfather Dave - none of them died while active members of the military. That painful honor fell to Dee’s cousin Donnie, after whom she was named - the first resident of Tarrant County, Texas to be killed in the Korean conflict. Neither Dee nor I ever had an opportunity to meet Donnie, but we honored his memory twicefold this day.
And I thought of those fireflies.
I thought of those flashing, glowing lights, small and evanescent, fluttering over a lawn on a warm spring evening. In my mind’s eye, I could see that each one was the soul of a loved one - a mother, a father, a relative, a friend - or perhaps someone unknown to us, someone who had died while defending our country. Like fireflies, those souls surround us always, whether or not we know they are there... and sometimes, as the dusk comes on and the shadows deepen, they send us a little flash, a little glow, to remind us that they are forever with us.