Posts Tagged ‘memorial day’

A Sunday sermon for Memorial Day. (Yes, I know Memorial Day is tomorrow, not today.)

The Blumenau family is not one of those with deep, intimate links to the American military. For better or worse, soldiering is not a job my ancestors seem to have pursued with particular avidity. (Perhaps they were lovers, not fighters.)

But a few of my forebears deserve recognition for their military service.

I think often of brothers Levi and Robert Beebe — something like my great-great-great-great-great-uncles — who marched out of East Haddam, Connecticut, and took up arms in the Revolutionary War.

As an expatriate New Englander, in spirit if not birth, I have maximum respect for the men (as almost all of them were) who swallowed hard, took on the world’s most powerful empire, and won — and then turned around and tackled the even greater challenge of defining and maintaining a new, independent nation.

Everything we as Americans have today, we owe in some fundamental way to those ragged bands of citizen-soldiers. I take pride in knowing there are a few of these folks in my bloodline — however distant they might be, and however disgusted they would probably be with my pampered 21st-century lifestyle. (They fought the Lobsterbacks so that I might sit in a cubicle all day and write talking points? I’m still working that one out.)

The Beebe brothers survived the war and went back to Connecticut.

More than 150 years later, in a different kind of war, another of my relatives would not be so lucky.

We’re getting away from our format a little bit. My Great-Uncle Ray, the sunny-looking gent pictured above, came from my mom’s side of my family, not my dad’s. (He was the brother of my maternal grandmother.)

And he never appeared on my grandfather’s calendars, which are the ostensible raison d’etre of this blog.

No matter: He deserves a moment’s recognition as the only close relative I know of, on either side of my family, to give his life in combat for his country.

Great-Uncle Ray — U.S. Army Private First Class Raymond J. Cahill of Torrington, Connecticut — died in France on July 15, 1944, roughly a month after the D-Day landings. He is buried in a national cemetery on Long Island that can’t be more than two hours from my house; I’ve thought several times that I might go, but have never actually done it.

In the grand scheme of things, he is a faded gold star, only one of 22 million to 25 million worldwide military casualties of World War II.

In the up-close-and-personal scheme of things, he is a hero — an ordinary American who paid the highest price for a crucial cause.

A blog post that will be read by a small handful of online passers-by is a pretty slim reward for that kind of sacrifice. But it’s what I have this Memorial Day weekend; and here it is, for what it’s worth.

Thank you, Great-Uncle Ray, and everyone else — from Lexington and Concord on down — who gave your lives to preserve the promise of the greatest, most free country in the world.

Successive generations have done an increasingly lousy job of conducting our national affairs in a manner worthy of your sacrifices.

But we have not completely misplaced what you gave us. The essence of the American promise is still in our grasp. And maybe we will figure out how to do you proud yet.

Coming tomorrow: A restoration of normal, irreverent blog-service.


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Memorial Day is almost here, and you know what that means — cookouts, holiday relaxation, a start to summer.

And, usually, rude shocks at the gas pumps.

As I write this post (a few weeks in advance), gasoline is hovering just a few cents shy of $4 per gallon here in eastern Pennsylvania. You can tell the stations are fighting not to cross that line. You can also tell they’ll have to cross it anyway, sooner than later, and that it probably won’t take much of a push to get there.

I’m seeing mixed news reports about Memorial Day price trends. Some sources predict we’ll pay an average of $4.25 per gallon on Memorial Day. Others predict that rising supplies of gasoline could actually force prices down. Either way, getting to cottages, cabins, shorefronts and state parks will take a nasty bite out of the working man’s wallet this summer.

All of which makes this week’s calendar entry — from the spring of 1974, before the Memorial Day run-up — all the more quaint.

March 4, 1974

Yup — 58 cents per gallon. (At that cost, my grandfather’s purchase of 8 1/2 gallons set him back roughly $4.90. That wouldn’t buy a gallon-and-a-half today.)

Just for a bit of context, Wikipedia says the average U.S. retail price of a gallon of gas rose from 38.5 cents in May 1973 to 55.1 cents in June 1974 — obviously the result of the 1973-74 energy crisis. I don’t have the economics chops to fully explain why my grandfather was paying so much more than the national average. I’ll assume part of it is state tax, given that Connecticut is traditionally an expensive place to live.

As with so many other things, I enjoy seeing my grandfather’s precision in writing down such tiny details as gasoline purchases. While it’s not on the calendar, I wouldn’t be surprised if he kept track of his odometer readings so he could calculate his MPG from tank to tank, too.

That said, I do my grandfather a bit of a disservice to dismiss this purchase as a “tiny detail.” It was a relatively small expense in the context of a household budget, sure. But for a man who was neither working nor receiving Social Security retirement benefits (he hadn’t signed up for them yet, you’ll recall), a price spike for a staple good like gasoline was not something to casually wave off.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ online inflation calculator says 58 cents in 1974 has the equivalent purchasing power of $2.63 today. Not sure that’s exactly an apples-to-oranges comparison for a gallon of gas, which has things like state tax tacked onto it. Still, the difference between the inflation calculator’s $2.63 and the real-life $4 seems pretty significant.

I can only wonder what my mom and dad, who remember buying 50-cent gas, think when they pay more than eight times that for a fill-up.

For myself, I have a single hazy memory of paying less than $1 for a gallon of gas. Only happened once, in the very late 1980s or very early 1990s. I remember thinking at the time that I should make a point of remembering it, ’cause it wasn’t gonna happen again. And it hasn’t.

Incidentally, I tried unsuccessfully to find out whether 62 degrees is still the weather record for March 4 in Stamford. (I don’t imagine it is.)

As he drove home that day, contemplating the uncertain future of gasoline, my grandfather might at least have rolled his windows down and enjoyed the warmth. The best things in life were free then. Some of them, like a faceful of warm wind, are still free now — once you’ve paid $50 to get back on the road, that is.

Next week: Free beer!

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