Of course, The Race. The 500. Indy!
We put playing cards on the spokes of our Huffys and Schwinns with clothespins and took on the names of our favorite drivers -- the first or last, whichever was more interesting -- Andretti, Parnelli, Foyt, Unser, Graham, Bettenhausen.
Bettenhausen was the most exotic and cool sounding, while he was with us. Better than Clark I thought.
More cards! More noise! More speed! Downhill! Watch out for the cars!
The hill seemed steep and long but grown up is revealed to be amazingly the opposite. Still, it gave us the speed we needed then to fuel our imaginations.
Sometimes we’d head up to Hartford City and the church camp at Lake Placid. Also known as Lake Polluted. Beware the water moccasins! while searching for turtles that became doomed fuzz-covered pets.
We picnicked, played games, praised God in the hot steel-clad tabernacle with the butt-smoothed splinter-laced plain-plank pews -- sit still! -- rowed boats around the scum-sheened lake, played sloppy softball, and then pie!
Blueberry and apple. Blueberry was my favorite. I loved pie. I love pie. Mom’s pie. Homemade-from-scratch-crust filled with fresh-bought brand-name-filling in a can.
Omigosh! Holiday blue-sky heaven. Oh, and a brownie on the side, please.
And the endless hometown parade through the tiny downtown.
We lined up on Grand Avenue near the National Guard Armory, dressed in our Scout’s best with neckerchiefs and everything else straight as an arrow, riding in straw-strewn open wagon-trailers or truck beds, with or without a theme, waving, laughing, holding high proudly the red-white-blue-stars-n-stripes, saluting every Vet in the crowd.
There were Vets everywhere, even in our living rooms.
Grills exploded with the aroma of hamburgers and hot dogs and a rare well-done steak.
No froufrou food for us.
All American mayo-drenched potato salad a-moldering in the heat. White bread buns. Chips with ridges. Dill pickles. Deviled eggs. Coleslaw. Tart salt-and-vinegar soaked cucumbers and onions. Sun-yellow mustard. Blood-red catsup. Green J-E-L-L-O with shredded veggies in it, a total yuck.
Salad or dessert? A never-solved mystery.
The best was the plate of sliced tomatoes, salted and peppered, slightly chilled, fresh from my grandmother’s garden. Oh man.
She swatted my hand from the plate preventing me from taking them all. I wanted them all. Still do. Sometimes when I visited her between picnics she’d give me a whole plate just for me. Ha!
Ah, summertime, you taste sweet just like those red-fresh tomatoes.
Wherever we were, at Memorial Park, the holy-roller campground, or our own backyards, we listened to The Race on our plastic AM transistor radios with a single monaural earpiece, periodically shouting the results in real time to those nearby.
Lap 17! Parnelli leads! Wait, there’s been a crash. Oh no. We’d stand still holding our breath until we knew none were hurt badly. Phew!
We were mobile broadcasters running amok in the heat among the families, playing tag and pretending to be on The Track roaring round and round and round.
White! Yellow! Green! Checkered! Give me the milk, man!
As dark fell we passed out the sparklers, lit them, and streaked the night writing our lives large in big glowing loops, as dads and uncles lolled in post-picnic languor reverently murmuring among themselves, remembering bombs bursting in air, bullets whizzing everywhere, missing them. Just missing them.
For that, we -- proud sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, grandkids, wives -- were thankful. Are thankful.
We salute you. Then and now, never forgotten. Always missed.
How about you? What are some of your favorite Memorial Day memories? Any special traditions you and your family observed each year? Any special plans for this year? Do you think Memorial Day means the same thing to people today? Share your thoughts in the comments?
BTW: The soldier in the graphic is my dad, Walter R. Clark, whom I remember and miss.