Her house was a visual cacophony: there was a Christmas tree in front of the large picture window, a blow-up Santa, sleigh, and reindeer on the roof; a large plastic Jack O Lantern on the front stoop, along with a plastic day-glo green witch and a cauldron that bubbled smoke if it was plugged in; a pinata hung from the corner of the porch; a leprechaun with a pot of gold sat on the window seat in the family room; and a baby New Year flew outside her upstairs window. The neighbors called her the holiday lady and laughed through the first five years; after that, they either shook their heads or crossed to the other side of the street when passing her property, which had taken on a very seedy look.
Buddy was seven and even though he’d never met the holiday lady, he loved her. There was nowhere else in the world as he knew it where it was possible to celebrate Halloween, Christmas, New Year’s, and any number of other occasions all at the same time, every day. Since there was no school, he occupied himself by sitting on the porch, playing with his toys, while he watched the holiday lady setting up something special on her front lawn. Grampa had joined him on the porch and from his perch in the rocking chair, watched the holiday lady from behind a veil of smoke from his pipe. “What’s she doing,” Buddy asked.
Grampa stood on legs that had seen too much action. “She’s honoring the day, Buddy.”
Buddy nodded but had no idea what his Grampa was talking about. The holiday lady was kneeling in front of the crooked flag pole that stood approximately in the middle of her front yard. The nearly translucent flag was at half-mast, but at noon sharp she took it to full and proceeded to kneel again.
“C’mon, Buddy,” Grampa grabbed his three-footed cane and reached for Buddy’s hand. They walked solemnly across the street to the holiday lady’s house. Grampa cleared his throat and she turned, startled; no one ever came to her house, except on Halloween and even then it was usually to put toilet paper in her trees. “Pardon me, ma’am, but may we join you?” She smiled, stood, and nodded. Grampa showed Buddy how to properly salute as they stood before the flag. Grampa looked at the holiday lady and then glanced at the flag. “Korea?” he asked.
She averted her eyes. “World War I,” she replied quietly. “You?”
Grampa puffed out his chest a little. “Viet Nam.”
“Thank you for your service,” she said in a whisper.
Grampa nodded. “Same time next year?”
“God willing,” came her answer.
They turned to go and as Buddy walked toward their house, Grampa turned back. “Oh, miss?” he called. When she came over he reached into his pocket. “Here is something for you to add to your collection.” He handed her his Purple Heart. “You keep on with your decorating. This certainly goes with the day.” She smiled brightly, holding the Purple Heart to her bosom like a treasure.
When they had regained their porch, Buddy asked, “Grampa, why’d you do that? Why’d you give her your Purple Heart?”
Grampa sat back in his chair to again regard the holiday lady from behind his pipe smoke as she continued her vigil beneath the flag. “Because it’s Decoration Day, Buddy, and anyone who honors it like her deserves that Heart just as much as I did.”
In honor of Memorial Day, known as Decoration Day when it was first initiated after the US Civil War, I offer this piece for Story A Day. It is thanks to those who gave their life in service to our country that we are able to celebrate such a day. Use it wisely.