We here in the U.S. are in the middle of Memorial Day Weekend. Now, Memorial day here in the land of the Free marks the official beginning of Summer, and every little kid in the neighborhood has been firing off illegal fireworks all days.
Memorial Day Weekend (a four-day weekend for most) was originally intended to be a time for family to go and decorate the graves of their kin lost to war, their military dead. Fireworks didn't used to be associated with it, just civic displays of floral arrangements and questionable decorations in the grocery stores, like styrofoam crucifixes dangling from the rafters. No I am not kidding.
My family would visit the cenotaph in the entry to Milwaukie City Hall and lay flowers for our honored deceased (there hadn't been enough left of them to fill a grave, is what I was told.) Then we would head straight for the Pioneer cemetery with implements of landscapial dominance held ready, and rip through the place, piling all the waste in an old sheet spread out on the ground to take away, while other families went around and stuck plastic flowers in the ground and then scrammed.
It always made me sad. We weren't intrusive or loud. We would begin at the very back corner and work our way forward. So very few families would show up.
The military dead in the pioneer cemetery were marked (for the most part) by cast white metal stars on a stake, and their name, rank and serial number would have been pressed into the center. This is what the military provided. Their kin were supposed to swap these out for stones, but very few had the money to do so. So very many of those graves went untended, the star blackening, lichen growing over the names. Nobody remembered, or cared - although after the Spanish Influenza epidemic, whole families were wiped out, and so those boys sleeping there had no living family to care.
If my grandmother was successful in her bullying campaign, our whole extended fucked-up family would show up, uncles, fathers, wives and children, armed and ready to do battle with subsidence, fungus, canary grass and trees. We owned the key to the caretakers vault, and inside there was multiple implements of garden care. I always thought it was So Damn Cool that my family were the caretakers of all this history.
My dad and my uncles and male relatives would hit the military section of the little graveyard; setting the cast metal stars up straight and noting down the names and matching them up to their rightful plot, scubbing the metal with a wire brush and water with Comet mixed in.
They would set up the old 'Boot Hill' wooden markers left over from the Native and Pioneer conflicts; most of them had fallen over, rotted off at the dirt, and would go back into place another inch deeper into the ground. They used Casein paint in the old days, which is like flint when it hardens. You could read the neat names, dates and everything as though they had been set in a few weeks past, even when they'd been lying face down on the ground. If they were rotted off as far as the bottommost part of the epitaph the markers would be stacked against the fence, in order, in line with the row where they belonged.
Nobody came to replace the wood with stone. The piles grew, year after year, and finally vandals broke in and stole them.
In the 1970's the pioneer graveyard was under siege by the teenagers and kids who lived in Waverly, just past the entrance to the graveyard, which was our towns bastion of the wealthy, a closed and gated community where all the movers and shakers lived. I wonder if they knew that their kids were partying in the pioneer cemetery, burning candles, smashing markers with crowbars, levering over the tall granite columns, and stealing the old wooden markers and the military stars. They would leave sledgehammer marks on the older stone slabs, and broke a few off at the cement base, never to be seen again. I have wondered to this day what the fuck those kids did with that shit.
The only thing this kind of destruction betokened was that their parents were wealthy and they didn't have to care.
Nobody they knew was buried in the Pioneer Cemetery. Their deceased lay in luxury, surrounded by rosebuds and baby's breath in perpetuity at the nearby Sellwood Mortuary, a beautifully landscaped few acres that held a series of Italianate chapels and mausoleums surrounded by elegant borders, specimen trees and shrubs, swans in pools, charming and poignant closes planted with weeping elm and alder.
The mausoleums were behind doors, separate little buildings faced with marble and other exotic stones laid in patterns, scented with flowers; and each one had it's specific population. One devoted to the virginal dead, another to infants, another for children, another for novitiates and members of the clergy, the Jewish separate from the Christian, the Masons separate from the Catholics, The Red Men standing alone behind gates that enclosed tall pillars of Imperial Red Granite, and many more groups nestled together in their separate buildings and gardens. Separate in life, separate in death.
The main building, the oldest and the most exquisite, reflected the pomp and conspicuous wealth of the early pioneer founders. The Pittocks, the Dekums and others were spending eternity in a domed alabaster chapel that passed the light in tones of muted cream, and revealed the portrait busts of the sleepers atop tall plinths beneath the stained glass oculus high above.
We had people resting in this place. One of them was my uncle, who had taken one look at the Civil War after debarking from his immigrant ship in New Orleans and thought to himself 'Oh fuck no,' and had walked to Oregon Country, where he was hidden in my grandmother's carriage house until a plausible back story could be concocted for him. He never spoke anything but German, and as a 'German' immigrant, was slapped on the back and sent up to saw down the gargantuan old growth trees on the slopes of Mt. Hood. One of them untwisted unexpectedly as it fell. It kicked back and crushed him with one glancing blow.
He was thrown back onto the slope, heart stopped instantly, and his sojourn in the New World, beyond the grasp of the Manor where he had worked under the same feudal system that had chased my grandfather to the very docks of Finland (where he presented falsified papers, as my uncle had, that proclaimed him a free man and able to travel.)
My uncle and grandfather spoke fluent German. You had to, if you wanted to escape the consequences that would follow you to America from the Old World. Only in his dotage did my Grandfather switch back to Finnish, and the rock hard, laughing, no-bullshit German woman he'd married would scoff at him and correct his accent, which drove him into gales of loud Finnish invective, and was answered by some fancy German vituperation. My grandmother took no shit, grew plants, made her own wine and moonshine, and expected the Second Coming of Christ with calm patience.
The other person was my fathers mother, a woman who was not spoken of in our family. My father would stay there alone, deep in the lowest part of the mausoleum, and I never knew what he thought or what he felt.
Every Memorial day we would pick our bouquets from my grandmothers huge flower garden. Other families would stop along the curb and ask if they could cut flowers, too, and my Grandmother would go with them with her deadly secateurs and clip them a neat bouquet, which she would wrap in wetted paper napkins so that the flowers would not wilt.
Now I play the part of my Grandmother for the Bikers' family here in Whatcom County. It falls to the wife, taking care of the graves, and although my husbands' family were never very churchy, I am proud to carry the torch for my grandmother and tend the graves of my husbands family, who are my family.
I know what to bring, and when to go, and how to communicate with the caretaker. The Bikers' family rest in a pioneer cemetery here in rural Whatcom County, and we tend their graves twice a year. If there are other family members present they all look sideways at my Catholic ass as I say my prayer and then cross myself. It's like a freaky secret coven to them, Methodists all. I say ya know what? My ass is edging the headstones, scrubbing out the graven letters and trimming up the evergreens from long, long ago that were planted to signify eternal remembrance. You can just put up with my Papist shit , particularly since I don't see you on your knees using a pair of clippers or a bucket of soap and water and a scrub brush to clean off these headstones - and I don't even know these dead folks! So do feel free to take the fuck off with your attitude.
For the most part, Memorial Day means massive illegal fireworks up here in Washington state. It's pretty awesome, to tell you the truth. The Biker and I can stand out on our front porch and watch huge, professional grade displays being shot off by all the local farmers, the rich folks who live up in the foothills, and the nuts who gather up a big old group of fools and go up onto the old logging stage of Dead Drug Dealer Mountain and fire off stupidly immense 'specials'. Each one of those fuckers costs a brick at least and the really intricate displays will run way upwards of that.
Here's the deal: you can go onto any Native American reserve and buy all the huge, dangerous, ridiculous, crazy, beautiful, amazing, magic, deadly fireworks your little heart desires - from roadside stands! Right off the boat from Macau, nice and dry. The thing is, by federal law, you the consumer are supposed to fire them off while you are On Reserve Land.
Nobody fuckin' does this.
Well, correction. The NA families that buy fireworks by the case-lot, around 1:00 in the night, will just pile up their unsold stock in the middle of the road and light the shit off.* It is UNREAL, folks. Rockets skim across the ground and through the corn and foddergrass and then rock into the culminating display on the ground, in one dimension, which, shit, you wanna talk about crop circles, man? It's unsafe, insane, and an absolute fucking awesome time. It is trashy and absolutely the most fun you can have with most of your clothes on. It is destructive and illegal and a total gas.
The drunker you are the better it is. Fireworks and booze are like peas and carrots. The booze makes you take potentially lethal creative leaps of the imagination, plus fire, and the blood alcohol level of the onlookers brings them into full appreciation of your efforts. You lose a jumbo bottle rocket and it goes skimming across the ground, some member of your drunk and enthusiastic audience will grab hold of the stick and fling it into the air as it blows sparks up their arm. That is brotherhood, man. That is your fellow American helping you make Memorial Day awesome.
The longer you store fireworks, the more dangerous it is, because the chance that they will get damp increases with time, and damp fireworks are untrustworthy. Some chemical interaction occurs, I am given to understand, in the rockets that use the most of the ingredient that makes the color green. (Feel free to correct me. I heard this from a drunk person on the Fourth of July years ago when we set a sofa on fire and taught our grandchildren to use guns. And I pulled a loose tooth out of my head with a pair of needle-nose pliers. It was an Epic Fourth, but I must necessarily doubt the verity of the information I obtained that night due to massive beer and vodka consumption.)
The Marietta branch of the local Lummi tribe are known for getting rid of unsold inventory in a stupendous display of not giving a rusty rats' ass, bigtime. They live on a silt bar at the mouth of a river that lets into a saltwater bay. They block off the road above and below their row of roadside stalls, pile all the leftovers on the dotted line, and fire the sapsucker off. No need to worry about nearby structures catching fire, no nearby woods to sweat - it's all tidal wash and estuary. The whole area becomes a supernova, one that you can see from miles around as it glitters on the waters of the bay and swarms through the reeds and tule and cottonwood.
The tribal police are so busy in other areas that even though they know that Marietta is blocking traffic and melting a hole in the tarmac, other bands in more remote parts of the area are setting bonfires using beach logs, gasoline and industrial fans. When you are confronted with several columns of flame reaching up into the sky high enough to heat up the International Space station, you head toward the most obvious threat. And frankly, this is something that everyone expects. It's almost tradition. The Red River Lummis fire off huge bonfires on the beach full of driftwood and gasoline, and the Marietta Lummis create massive galaxies of destruction in the tidal surge swamps. Five miles further inland, the Ferndale Lummis are lighting off professional grade displays from the top of the local grocery store, and all the Bostons (whitey) who have already laid in their supply and smuggled it off the rez are going nuts as well.
There is no way the police or the fire department can keep up with it. They concentrate on the timberlands and the crops. If someone is lighting off WWIII in a cul-de-sac in the middle of town, they'll hit that.
Off the rez, this havoc is being wreaked by people my age, old enough to know better. They do. They just don't care. They have the money to buy the bigtime rockets, and they do. They go up into the hills, find a timber stage, set up camp, burn some hot dogs, kill some beers, and then fire off professional grade fireworks until they get too drunk to operate a lighter.
We here at Rancho FirstNations don't spend a dime. Everyone in town has paid for our entertainment. We stand on the porch and the neighbors provide us with a display that you won't get from a team of pros.
No, that team of pros will be here come rodeo season, and come the Fourth of July we'll have a nice, city-sponsored display too. And it's usually a doozy. One of the things that brought us to decide to live in this town was attending it's Fourth of July Celebration, with baseball games, a horse show (I dunno, dressage display? Like a dog show but with people riding horses. I'm not a horse person.) kids running around with sparklers and the rodeo grandstand filled with people who cheered and blew airhorns and sang The National Anthem and This Land Is Your Land and cheered.
Come Monday, which is Official Memorial Day, we'll go take care of our dead, then lay in some beers, have some friends over, barbecue some animal pieces and eat potato salad. Come the evening, the whole sky will be lit up for hours, and we'll sit around our fire pit and just hang out and enjoy the show.
You are invited.