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Remembering when Memorial Day brought community out to reflect

When I want to find community in Hernando County, I look to Aripeka.

Which is why I decided to attend the Memorial Day ceremony at Aripeka Cemetery.

No matter that the cemetery is not actually in the close-knit coastal village, but on the shores of Hunter's Lake in Spring Hill. It offers free burial to any resident who helps with maintenance, and you can't get more community than that.

What did I find there Monday morning?

A somber, respectful ceremony led by the color guard from American Legion Post 186 and its auxiliary. I found a peaceful, wooded setting, though we were just a few yards from U.S. 19. I found a crowd of about 50, a good-sized turnout considering this was a first-year event.

But I didn't see any young people, at least not at first. I didn't find any evidence that this ceremony was anything other than the usual Memorial Day gathering of retirement-age veterans.

"We're going to work on that,'' said organizer and longtime member of the auxiliary Fran Finley, 73, who vowed to recruit more children and families for next year's event.

I wish her luck, because I believe Memorial Day should be something more than just veterans preaching to the choir.

I don't want to write one of those columns complaining about today's young people because I think the issue is more complicated than that.

But I couldn't help but remember how, when I was a boy in suburban Cincinnati, Memorial Day started in the morning when we heard the distant playing of our high school marching band.

We could walk across the park in front of our house and still make it in time to see the parade go by. Another short walk brought us to a granite war memorial. There, we joined just about everybody else in town to listen to taps, a 21-gun salute and my father, a retired Army officer, as he read the names of the dead and just enough about their deaths — the theater of combat, for example, and their invariably young age — to leave a lasting picture. A memory, in other words.

It was patriotic, but not nationalistic. It taught us about tragedy as well as sacrifice. And, because some of the last names were the same as our neighbors', it reminded us that war could take anyone.

Valuable lessons, I believe. And harder to teach in Hernando County because a lot of us don't know each other very well. Because if we wanted to hold a parade through the most densely populated part of the county, Spring Hill, we'd have a hard time figuring out where to hold it.

And because, though more people are willing to brag about their patriotism on bumper stickers, fewer are willing to make any effort to remember the dead.

"I think everybody's out boating,'' said Carol White, an Aripeka native whose family I noticed after the ceremony ended.

White's daughter, Cristi O'Donnell, was visiting from Newberry with her year-old son, Bryce. She posed with him for a picture in front of the grave of her father, Roye White, a Vietnam veteran, whose death was hastened by exposure to Agent Orange, Carol White said.

Another longtime Aripeka resident commented about how proud White would be of his grandson.

And of his daughter, I bet, for taking time to remember on Memorial Day.

Remembering when Memorial Day brought community out to reflect 05/26/08 [Last modified: Monday, June 2, 2008 1:44pm]
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