Memorial Day: welcoming summer, honoring memories

It’s not often my summer begins with the Memorial Day weekend, even if the end of May marks the unofficial start to the season for the rest of the US.

Most years in the past decade I’ve been in SE Alaska, and while spring is in the air by the end of May, summer is definitely not.

The past week found us in Virginia Beach, checking out a different side of the country, a different beach experience, and yet, oddly enough, with the same weather we thought we left behind us in Alaska: chilly, rainy, overcast. I understand this is unusual, just the luck of the draw. But still…I packed for different temps!

Finally, to launch the beginning of the weekend, we had a glorious day of sun, views, travel and music. A nice cap to our trip, and we also enjoyed a moving history lesson walking the length of the Virginia Beach boardwalk, reading the posters honoring events in US military history, and the beginning of the holiday now known as “Memorial Day.”

To celebrate the sun coming out, we left Virginia Beach and drove south. Sitting on top of North Carolina’s famous Outer Banks (OBX) was too tempting, so we made the easy drive south to explore another region of the Atlantic coast.

A couple of hours down the road you find yourself in the chain of communities that form the upper group of holiday / tourist coastal towns: Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head.

Where did they get those names?!

Headed down we drove through rural NC communities dotted with restaurants offering Southern food at its finest, barbecue, fresh crab and other local seafood, and fresh produce markets. Couldn’t resist stopping at a couple of these, picking up tomatoes, peaches, cantaloupe, jam, corn, and muscadine bread. (For anyone unfamiliar with muscadines, these are a type of grape which grows in the South.) You can make anything from jam and jellies to wine, eat them fresh off the vine, or, apparently, use them in baked goods. I’ve never eaten anything baked with muscadines, so this will be a first!

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I didn’t buy asparagus, but these were so tiny and beautiful I couldn’t resist making a photo.

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In the midst of our rambling, we visited the Wright Brothers National Memorial, honoring their historic and life-changing first flight, back in 1903. Though Kitty Hawk often gets credit for the location of the first flight, it actually happened in Kill Devil Hills. There’s an impressive monument to their feat, which continues to impact life…and I doubt it’s an exaggeration to say every life…on the planet.

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The Atlantic was a heavenly blue with brilliant sunshine out to herald the arrival of summer. Honestly, I could have been happy just driving the coast, taking in the views, soaking up the warmth, and appreciating the mix of kitsch and beauty.

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But we were only out for the day, and by late afternoon made our way back to Virginia Beach.

At the end of the day, we wandered down to find multiple outdoor concerts, restaurants, visitors biking, walking, eating, playing on the beach…a mix of ages, styles, cultures, languages…a melting pot, all around us.

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It was a nice reminder of the meaning behind the holiday, and how everyone living in this country in peace and freedom owes a debt of gratitude to those who’ve made it possible.

We’ve explored the Boardwalk a few times during our stay, but the other times we’ve been out have been more a fight against the wind and rain. This walk was leisurely, strolling and reading posters highlighting critical points in US history. I learned a few things about the various wars and conflicts that dot our history…these are just a couple of examples:

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Thank you, people of the past who made a difference, and gave your all doing it! Looking back at the past, the eras of bygone sacrifice, fears, victories and losses is sobering, but also reassuring.

It’s our responsibility to honor the past, but also to safeguard the future. And we do that by living with courage, respect, and thoughtfulness. How are we caring for the legacy of freedom today? That’s a question everyone has to answer for themselves, and the answers will vary, depending on the lens you use to filter. I think the best we can do is to live with personal integrity, value life, and understand that differences don’t have to divide. They can actually make us stronger, if we allow for that.

And guess what? Summer has begun!

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