And so we come to Memorial Day, a day to remember.
You may have a specific monument you’d like to mention, and if you do, talk about it here and reflect on its significance.
But if you don’t, use this story that comes from one of our contributors, Stan Purdum.
In the little town of Victory Mills, New York, there’s a memorial called the Saratoga Monument. It celebrates the decisive win by the Americans over the British in the 1777 Battles of Saratoga during the American Revolutionary War. The monument is a majestic, imposing stone obelisk nearly 155 feet tall. Work on it started 100 years after the battle and there’s a staircase inside that allows visitors to climb some 190 steps to the top from which they can see grand views of the surrounding area.
Purdum lived in nearby Saratoga Springs during his teen years. He and his friends used to ride their bicycles to the monument. He remembers climbing the staircase on more than one occasion.
Purdum’s family moved to another state while he was still in high school, so a few years ago, on a vacation with his wife and children en route to New England, he detoured to show them the Saratoga Monument. He was looking forward to revisiting this boyhood spot, especially since none of his family had seen it.
It was a hot day when they arrived. They were bumping along in an old motorhome in which the air conditioning had quit. Everyone was sweaty and tired from long hours of travel. The kids were seated in the vehicle at a table playing cards. When their dad urged them to get out to see the obelisk, they merely glanced out the window, said something about it being just another monument, and went back to playing cards. Purdum’s wife told him to go ahead and have a look; she’d wait in the vehicle with the kids. She was more interested in where they were going to camp that night and whether it would have a pool where the kids could swim.
Somewhat deflated, Purdum says that he walked alone to the massive structure, consoling himself with the knowledge that at least he’d be able to climb the staircase and see the surrounding countryside again. But no. When he got to the door, he found it locked. The park had closed for the day a few minutes before they’d arrived.
While driving away, Purdum thought about how no one in his family had looked at the monument for what it was intended to memorialize.
+ To his kids, it was just another pile of stones like others they’d seen.
+ To his wife, it was an interruption in getting the family settled for the night.
+ And to Purdum himself, the monument stood not for the brave soldiers who died in 1777, but as a touchstone of happy times he’d had there as a kid.
If those who built the monument could have asked Purdum and his family members what the monument meant to them, they’d have likely been disappointed in the answers.
But this is what tends to happen to monuments over the passage of time. They become detached from the events that led to their creation. In fact, consider Memorial Day itself; it’s a day to remember fallen soldiers who died serving their country. Yet for many of us, it’s simply a day off work, a holiday. And each year, the legions that gather in cemeteries to honor the dead get a little smaller.