Updated: May 29, 2022
Memorial Day doesn’t stick out in my memory as vividly as other holidays. To be frank, as a kid it barely registered. Sure, we got the day off which turned it into a long weekend, but (at least in elementary school in Brooklyn) we still had roughly another month of school, so it wasn’t the shining beacon of summer it became as I got older. Nor did it have the fanfare or excitement of the Fourth of July (the real summer holiday for any kid). Still, I don’t know a single person who would squander a long weekend.
My first memory of Memorial Day is really a slew of memories all jammed together like a giant ball of used bubblegum: Barbecues. Let’s get something straight from the start. We didn’t know what real barbecue was back then, especially living in Brooklyn. Sadly, I wouldn’t know about smoked meats until I was in my twenties. I’m talking straight up grilling, and even that was a bit of a trick living in a small apartment building. My dad would roll out one of those small charcoal numbers right onto the front stoop of the building, load it up with coal, squirt a copious amount of lighter fluid into the pit, and light that mother up. I can still smell the intoxicating concoction of flammables as they caught, sending a fireball into the air that would do Homer Simpson proud.
My dad was always a traditionalist when it came to the grill. He’d load it up with hot dogs, burgers, and maybe chicken legs. Side dishes were an afterthought. Corn on the cob was a must and maybe baked beans. We had never been a macaroni salad or coleslaw family, so that stuff rarely made it to the table. Round out the meal with some potato chips and soda, and little Tony went into "feast mode."
The second memory I have of Memorial Weekend is Coney Island, which was literally a fifteen-minute drive from our apartment. Being so close, we had a pretty standard routine. There was a candy shop we’d go to and get chocolate and peanut covered marshmallows on a stick. Then we’d hit Nathan’s for their famous hot dogs and sometimes cheese fries (notice a trend with food?). Next were the claw machines, which weren’t like the ones you see these days. They were small, with metal cranes and a dizzying variety of prizes sitting in rice. One of the prizes was a tiny glass piggy bank that you could trade for anything in the machine.
As tradition dictated, my dad then had to goad me into riding the Cyclone (the famous roller coaster) to which I would always decline as sweat dripped down my terrified face.
Instead, we’d go on the Wonder Wheel, a giant Ferris wheel with both swinging and stationary cars. But probably my favorite ride there was the log flume because it wasn’t particularly scary, and I liked getting splashed with water.
My third and final memory of Memorial Day is also my vaguest. I had to confer with my parents on this one, but they claim we went to parades at least a few times. I remember being at parades all through my childhood, but I wouldn’t have necessarily remembered what they were all for or when we went. The Bay Ridge Memorial Day Parade was the closest one to where we lived and would go right by the Fort Hamilton army base, which probably meant it was the parade we’d most often attend. I had a friend that lived at the army base, and so I have a few memories of riding my bike there to meet up with him, but I do also remember a firework show, which I believe was for Memorial Day.
Sometimes I wish my memory was a perfect record of my life, but the truth is I remember a lot of my childhood in big, broad swatches with much of the intervening time filled in by abstractions and emotions. Still, I don’t mourn the loss of time because we still have today.
I hope you all have a memorable Memorial Day Weekend, and let us not forget to remember those who courageously gave their lives and to honor our nation’s heroes.