stars & stripes

Two Memorial Day Connections: A Memory and a Book

Finally, after the whirlwind nuthouse of the challenging-yet-satisfying A-to-Z Daily Blogging in April, I’ve recovered to where I’m now starting my attempt at weekly blogging…Onward!

1 – My favorite Memorial Day parade memory – May 31, 1982:

We were living in Dubuque, Iowa with our 2-and-a-half-year-old son, Marco. We lived about 3 blocks from Dubuque’s parade route – perfect! Some of our good friends were going to be in the parade.

At that time our main life-community was the Dubuque Catholic Worker House. Among other doings (running a house of hospitality for women and families; a large garden; weekly Friday evening communion-and-discussions), the CW was at the time the core of political activism in Dubuque (“Don’t bring back the draft!” and “US out of El Salvador!” demonstrations, for example – we were always there, with little Marco in the baby backpack). The CW group had gotten permission to march in the Memorial Day parade, to witness to “No More War!” while at the same time honoring and supporting veterans and service members.

Mano and I chose to not participate, as I was, well, 9 months pregnant!

That morning, I awoke about 6:30 am (though not naturally an early bird), and realized that I was in labor-!!

My first labor with Marco had gone slow and long (24+hours), so I wasn’t anxious. We called the midwives (I had a team of 3 for our planned homebirth); they came over, examined and conversed, and pronounced that it would likely be several hours yet – and encouraged lots of raspberry-leaf tea, eating the fresh greens they’d brought me, and walking as much as comfortable, while keeping their number close at hand.

So we walked on down to the parade route at ten o’clock…

I sat on the curb, Marco was on his Papi’s shoulders, and we watched the bands and twirlers and veterans and horses go by. And then we saw our friends! – Karla and Joanne and Nettie and Uncle Paul and the others! Marco was so excited to see them, and they waved back and forth. As they moved along in the parade and drew alongside us, they waved and called, “Come and join us!” But we just waved back and smiled…No, we wouldn’t be joining in this time: I was in slow-but-very-active labor! (Lots of breathing during that parade…!)

Colin Joseph was born at home about 2:30 the next morning, his whole family and 3 midwives in attendance, and his big brother Marco was the first person in the world to kiss him.

That is my favorite Memorial Day parade memory. Memorial Day AND “Labor Day” all in one!   😉

And now for something different:

2 – This book: From Bunker Hill to Baghdad: True Stories of America’s Veterans, by Pat Mendoza.

PMendoza bookI met Pat Mendoza – storyteller, singer, author, and Vietnam veteran – at the first storytelling conference I ever went to: the 1988 Rocky Mountain Storytellers Conference in Denver. We connected especially as we talked after his performance about his extraordinary story and song of the Sand Creek massacre. We met for coffee-n-conversation several times, I heard his music gig at Gussie’s, and he approached me about perhaps doing some backup singing for his next music album (alas, that never came to pass, sigh…!).

Pat’s experience serving in the Navy in Vietnam of course shaped much of his life, and he brought that powerfully into his storytelling and song, along with a wide variety of other influences such as love for the West, silly humor, love of good story, and the ability to sound exactly like Elmer Fudd as well as Porky Pig (both of which came forth in his rendition of “Mama, Don’t Let your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys”…you had to be there!).

I am not a combat or even service veteran, and so I know that there is much I will never be able to understand or share with those who are. But both a good friend (now gone) and my brother (very much here!) served in Vietnam, so Pat knew that I at least had that kind of space in my heart, and that undergirded many of our conversations.

Pat died way too early, of complications from a stroke in 2012, and we gave a storytelling concert in tribute to him in early 2013 in Denver. He had been close to finishing this book, and now his wife Dona has been able to complete it and it’s available for purchase!

I can’t wait to get my copy.

I hope you buy one, too.


Do you have a favorite personal Memorial Day memory?
Any books to recommend, in connection with Memorial Day?


Excerpt from book’s description on publisher’s website:

“Pat Mendoza gives voice and recognition to everyday heroes’ stories. The tales he recounts from the known and unknown individuals who have fought our country’s wars need to be heard.

“These compelling, enlightening, and often highly personal experiences tell stories of average citizens as well as historical figures who made huge sacrifices by serving in the military, giving the reader new perspectives on war, and its real costs.

“Wars are generally started by those holding power—those whose names are recorded in history books—yet they are fought by the average citizen. In wartime, a single person’s action can change the course of history. From Bunker Hill to Baghdad: True Stories of America’s Veterans presents stories told by just a handful of the limitless number of men and women who put their lives on the line for the lives of others in every major American military conflict from the Revolutionary War to the present. A fantastic resource for storytellers, this collection can also be used for student research as well as for read-alouds.”


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