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Memory of Memorial Day

In my childhood I had never lost any close relatives to death. Except for my grandparents who had died long before I ever had a chance to know or love them. Yet, a palpable emptiness existed in my life in reserve for them.

My first real  understanding of death came when I was about three years old. My nine year old brother, Davy, told me most reverently, that he was not my only brother. Not quite believing him, I questioned my mother, and in a matter of fact manner, she verified it.  The year before Davy was born, 1938,  she had a stillborn baby boy, and she named him Lee Borden Deane.  No one ever behaved uncomfortable about it,  the only attitude was one of respect for the dead and a long ago sense of loss. And so, another palpable space occupied my life, labeled “Baby Lee.” He seemed so wise to me as he watched over us in heaven since he was older than Davy.

By the time I was seven, I had younger brother and sister who easily made up for any sense of missing family members. Our lives were quite busy and full.

We made yearly pilgrimages on Memorial Day to Baby Lee’s unmarked gravesite. About 1957, during my early adolescence, I  remember one particularly miserable trip from Niagara Falls to Tioga County, Pennsylvania. I did not understand what was bothering my mother, but I  was very aware that she was especially grouchy. My brothers, sister and I thought she was being mean towards us kids during that trip.  We wondered is she was mad at one of us, but dared not ask. We felt trapped in the car; and sullenly sat in silence, not daring to move.  We couldn’t wait to arrive, and  run off into the woods to explore and play, working up an appetite for the picnic that was planned for later.

Mom and Dad stayed near the grave, pulling weeds and arranging flowers.  Later, I wandered back to see if it was safe to get near them without suffering my mother’s wrath.  As I came out of the thicket, I saw their backs were turned to me, surprised to see my father’s arm around my mother’s shoulder, I couldn’t remember ever seeing any show of affection between them. I stopped in my tracks, curious. Then, I noticed my mother’s shaking shoulders.  She was sobbing bitterly. I wondered if she was feeling bad about the way she had treated us kids earlier. I sorely needed an apology or at least a kind word.  I wanted to feel forgiving toward  her.  My Dad glanced back and saw me.  Alarmed, I whispered, “What’s wrong?”

Mom, ignoring me, broke away from Dad and walked away, studiously pretending to look at some other dead person’s gravestone.   Dad came toward me, blocking my view of her, and answered, “Your mother is crying for Baby Lee, because he died and she doesn’t have him here with us.”

I felt as though I had been slapped across the face. A burning resentment of the dead baby filled me, and suddenly, I decided I hated my mother. For the first time in my life I felt true rage. Like a child size volcano, I exploded. “Why is she crying about a baby who died ......How many years ago?..... Why does she care so much about that one and not about us?  She has all four of us, alive and living with her everyday and she treats us so mean!! What about ME?” I sobbed. “What about Dave, Roger and Wendy?

As my father looked around to see if any strangers visiting the cemetery had heard me shouting, I turned and ran with my anger, back into the woods. After a while I calmed down and wandered aimlessly, looking at all the wild green things growing. I felt alone and unloved. Many times throughout the rest of the day, I heard my brothers and sister occasionally calling me. Whenever they came near, I ducked behind the nearest big tree trunk and they would miss me.  I even, purposely ignored them when they yelled for me to come and eat. Their searching for me was sporadic and I knew my parents were not too worried about me, or they would have participated in the search. I was too hurt and resentful to allow myself to enjoy the picnic, or to let go of my self pity.

By the time the sun began to set, Dave climbed a nearby mountain, and was able to spy my hiding place. Not alerting me to his search, by calling for me, he silently came through the woods right to my location, and resigned, I walked out of the woods with my brother. I was no longer in a rage, but feeling whiney, I asked the same questions of Dave as I had screamed at my father. He let me know he was just as unhappy about it as I was. But, he was not angry. He  tried to explain to me that I should try to be more understanding. I didn’t know how to do that. Yet, I became somehow strangely comforted to know that he shared my feelings.  The burden of it was no longer so painful to me, and I forgave Baby Lee for abandoning us so long ago.  It was many years before I ever got to a place where I understood my mother’s behavior and no longer  held it against her.

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