Some of the saddest letters I get here are from veterans. People posted in Iraq and Afghanistan who find out they’ve been cheated on. Or faithful spouses at home, doing the difficult job of single parenting while their spouse is deployed, and they get chumped. It’s like no good deed goes unpunished. You’re doing a hard enough job, the stresses of which would break anyone, and then you’ve got infidelity to deal with on top of it? You are MIGHTY. If your cheater can’t respect you, fuck ’em. I hope you are having a wonderful celebration today, reveling in the appreciation and respect others have for you.
A couple weeks ago, I went to Washington, D.C. to visit friends (and met some local chumps too :-)) — and my flight was delayed thanks to about 60 World War II veterans who were on an Honor Flight to see the Second World War monument in D.C. (Do you know how long it takes to get 60 90-plus year olds out of wheelchairs and into a plane?)
It was so cool. They had a small parade for them inside the Austin airport with bagpipes and everything. Then the plane got a water cannon salute, and when we disembarked, there was a line of Marines in dress uniforms to greet them.
I confess I got misty. Okay, I got embarrassingly misty. (Chalk it up to weird 40-something hormones.) My ex-mother-in-law from my first marriage (who I liked very much, she just had a lousy son) — was a WAC in World War II. Taught Morse code. Neat lady. I thought of her and my grandparents’ generation, most of them passed away now and what an amazing generation they were.
I sat next to two veterans on the flight. One guy was an Air Force pilot and did 120 missions over Europe. The other fellow was a medic in Normandy, and at the end of his tour, they sent him to the Pacific after the war. What lives these men had! The pilot stayed a pilot and the medic became an educator.
I confess, I never used to give Memorial Day much thought before, until I was a newspaper editor in Lancaster, Pa. for a farm paper, Lancaster Farming. One of my jobs at the paper was to find writers for the Northern edition of news and so I pressed a farmer, Troy Bishopp, aka “The Grass Whisperer” into service writing for us. Usually he gave very good farming tips on rotational grazing. (Did you know you can administer eye drops to cattle via squirt gun?) But he had a sentimental side. Every Memorial Day Troy would write these tear jerking essays. About a kid in his small town, Deansboro, New York, who died in the war, about the changing landscape of his community and how the farms were disappearing, about his great-grandfather who built barns by hand.
Okay, Troy is a sentimental guy in the best of times, but on Memorial Day, he would really go for the gut. (When he’s not penning tear jerkers, he’s a grazier on a fourth-generation 140-acre farm in upstate New York.) You can check out his writing at thegrasswhisperer.com — or talk to him some time about rotational grazing. (He’s something of a super star on that topic.)
With his permission, he’s letting me post one of my favorite pieces he wrote for Memorial Day, about driving down the road and discovering a barn his great-grandfather built in pieces.
Some people don’t treasure things like they should. It’s a good lesson to meditate on this Memorial Day. Let’s be thankful people.
Without further ado, here’s the Grass Whisperer, Troy Bishopp on “A Different Kind of Memorial Day.”
My family is no exception. We place flowers on graves and say prayers for our ancestors, hoping in some way we have done them proud through our daily lives. Reflection upon the people, events and commonplace things in our small rural community are a powerful stimulus towards appreciating your sense of place in this world.
This year, I seem to be more teary eyed than usual about the day. At times, this affliction seems to have little basis other than a subtle song on the radio, a newspaper clipping or an old photograph. With all the good things and people in my life, my heart shouldn’t be so heavy, but it somehow is.
I guess this feeling was set off by a simple but profound event that would probably go unnoticed by most folks. For most of my life, I have lived on Route 12-B that travels North and South from our farm. This one time dirt road parallels the old canal and rail system that used to bring goods to and from our area.
My ancestors helped shape this road of dirt and made it a real place with their hands, products, knowledge and offspring. On this road there were many small farms that were the heart of local communities back then, but alas there are only a few left, including ours. This is a road that is packed full of memories for me personally. This piece of ”now” asphalt is a footprint of our society, our being, our connection to the past.
Back in the day, my great-grandfather Hubert Bishopp was a small farmer, and carpenter that was adept at building barns with nothing more than a saw and a great eye. He was a true craftsman, something I would like to aspire to.
The other day I started to see some cones and equipment next to a set of red barns, which are now owned by the local quarry. The foundations were near perfect but the roofs were in disrepair. The weathered red barn siding was still beautiful but it hadn’t housed anything but pigeons in over 20 years. I’m sure the officials at corporate headquarters were looking at them as a liability given their close proximity to the road.
Having heard Hubert had a hand in erecting these testaments of strength, I was particularly proud of passing them every day on my life’s journeys. You can only imagine my sorrow when I drove by to see them both in a pile. I couldn’t help myself, I cried. It was like losing a family member. Men were extracting beams and boards haphazardly with little caring or respect. Tin was stripped, windows that let the morning sun warm the cows were smashed and in a few days the 30 foot structures were reduced to a small pile of rubble. When I decorate my great-grandfather’s grave this year it will contain a token from those old barns.
I have a vivid memory of Route 12-B claiming the life of our canine family member, Mickey, to which he is laid to rest in a grove of cherry trees on the farm. Even though it was a few years ago, there is not a Memorial Day that goes by that we don’t think of him. He was a great asset leading the cows through gates and retrieving people’s belongings, even if they didn’t want them moved. He was great with the kids and surprisingly gentle with the chickens for a bird dog. The circumstances surrounding his death by a hit and run driver and the pain of putting down an animal you truly love is something a farmer can never forget. I seem to recall we were in mourning for several days.
It has been our tradition for as long as I can remember that we watch as one of my daughters play in the marching band in the parade that makes its way down past our house to the cemetery on Memorial Day. The kids, firemen, veterans and families all gather to hear the words about patriotism, freedom and the ultimate sacrifices made by our men and women in the armed forces.
This year will be different however. As the national anthem is played and taps ushered in from the hillside overlooking the flag, Route 12-B will have once again, played a role in my bloodshot eyes. You see the road that carried milk cans to the Deansboro Creamery also was the last journey for one of our local serviceman killed in battle in Iraq. Watching the motorcade carry this brave and honorable young man to his final resting place truly humbles you to how important life is and how Memorial Day isn’t just about a one day remembrance, its all year long. Our community’s sense of grieving mirrors that of other small towns still hurting, but together as a melting pot, we will continue to support each other’s families and their sons and daughters. Freedom is definitely not “free.”
This day of emotion has one more surprise for the grass weeper. Just as one looks at remembering the past, one must also look to the future. Our future and passion lies with the next generations to shape this road of life. I’m hoping for tears of joy as I will be spending the day with all three of my daughters and family, celebrating the upcoming birth of our first grandchild.