Paula’s Post #37 — Yesterday was Memorial Day in the United States, the annual holiday to honor the men and women of the armed forces and in particular those that didn’t make it home again.
A somber occasion, which somewhat perversely is often celebrated with trips to the beach and picnics, falling as it does on the weekend that is traditionally considered the first day of summer. Or for those fashionistas out there, the day we can start wearing white again.
But it is so much more than that.
We don’t celebrate Memorial Day in Canada, we honour the men and women who served on Remembrance Day – at the 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month, the same time the Armistice was signed following World War I.
In Canada, it always rains on Remembrance Day. I know this because when I was a little girl, I played the flute in the West Vancouver Band.
A concert band, as you can see from the photo above.
An indoor band.
Except on Remembrance Day. On Remembrance Day, we marched. We marched in the Remembrance Day parade.
This Memorial Day, I played golf. A beautiful glorious day in the California Desert (yes, I’m back in California for a couple of weeks). An impossibly perfect day that seemed all wrong for remembering our service men and women.
For me, this juxtaposition of thoughts, these reflections on Remembrance Day and Memorial Day, brought back a flood of memories. Memories rich with surprising details, long forgotten.
I remembered that in my youth, when we marched on Remembrance Day, we’d assemble in the supermarket parking lot before the parade and the mothers and fathers in the band auxiliary would pass out plastic rain slickers to cover our blue wool uniform jackets. They even had little plastic covers for our hats. When we put the covers on, our hats and jackets mostly just looked grey, just like the weather. A fitting match for the mood and the sky.
Since I played the flute in the band, one of the few instruments where you cannot attach a lyre, they also handed out leather arm buckles for us to strap around our forearms. That way, you could stick the little square sheet of band music in the buckled-on lyre and read the sheet music when you held up your arm to play. At least that was the idea. Until it got soggy. It didn’t work very well in the rain.
But if you put your arm down and swung it back and forth while marching, with your flute tucked under your other arm like you were supposed to hold it when not playing, you risked having the music fall out on the pavement and get all wet, then you’d have to scramble out of formation and run back and pick it up and find your place again.
And then, your face was red, pretty much the only thing not grey on an otherwise grey day.
Funny how you remember these things. All these little memories tucked into the crevices of our brains. Until yesterday, I’d forgotten about those stupid flute lyres. Frankly, I’d even forgotten the word “Lyre” it is not one I use in everyday discourse. But like that, while thinking about Memorial Day and Remembrance Day, I was transported back to 1972 and marching in the West Vancouver Band in the rain.
I could see the raindrops shimmering on my silver plated flute. The trombones, playing too loud. The way the drummers tapped out a cadence for us on the rims of their drums and with their sticks, to keep us in step. Left, left, left right left… shuffle to catch up and keep the line straight.
Memories, all but forgotten until some little stimulus opened the door and brought them all out again. Writers need to remember things. That is where we find the rich details for our writing. We only need to find the right stimuli to activate those memories.
We often here the phrase:
“Write what you know.”
That doesn’t mean that you should write a story about working in an accounting firm, because you are an accountant, nor that your protagonist should be a dental assistant, because you are a dental assistant. It means that you should draw on your rich store of hidden memories to provide authentic detail in your stories. To make your readers feel like they are there, because you’ve been there before them.
That doesn’t mean you can’t write about assembling a bomb, or shooting a gun, or kidnapping, or running for President, or surviving a horrible accident. We do and must write about tall these things in fiction, fortunately, with respect to the more gruesome and horrifying events, without actually witnessing them.
But to be a good writer, we do need to find experiences in our own lives that provide the rich overlay of detail, to make our scenes alive.
So, for me, my stimuli this year was the thought of Memorial Day, and how different it is to remember the fallen in the sunshine in May, instead of in the rainstorms of November.
Somehow, the weather in November seems more fitting, although I always feel badly when it rains and I watch our aging WW II veterans march down the street in the rain without canes and walkers. They always look so serious, so proud. So frail. I’m always afraid someone is going to fall and break a hip or have a heart attack.
It always make me cry.
Yesterday, I played golf on a pristine, country club golf course, no one behind me, – just 9 holes, and a perfect blue sky day in 90 degree weather.
All by myself.
All by myself with time to think.
I enjoyed myself, but the whole time I played, it just didn’t seem fair.
So yesterday, on Memorial Day, while I was thinking about all that didn’t seem fair, I remembered all those small little details from Remembrance Day’s past.
I don’t know if I will ever write a novel about marching in a parade in the rain. Maybe I’ll write a novel with a hired killer, stalking her prey in the rain. And if I do, I’ll remember the details: the shimmer of rain drops on the barrel of the gun, the feel of rain, sloshing in shoes, the cold and the chill of hair plastered to your cheeks.
So if and when you recall the rich details of an event, long forgotten, write them down.
Oh, and I hope yesterday, on Memorial day, you remembered someone who served.