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home : opinion : opinion February 5, 2016

6/6/2013 5:15:00 PM
Holiday tradition takes a turn for the strange
Darla Hussey

My family is strange. 
We readily admit to this. It's actually a point of pride. In my house, "normal" is just a setting on the dryer. 
This weekend, we engaged is what is perhaps our strangest family tradition to date.
Some people barbecue for Memorial Day. Some visit the cemetery.  We wash bird poop off flag poles.
This year, we added scrubbing hunks of brass and granite with a toothbrush to our Memorial Day festivities.
Before anyone sends CPS to confiscate my children, I should probably mention that we do this at Bess Hampton Memorial Gardens to help the VFW tidy the place up for Memorial Day. 
This is a new tradition for us (this is our second year), but I'm pretty sure it's one we'll be honoring for years to come.
Both years, this ritual of cleaning has spawned meaningful conversations with my boys. They ask insightful questions about veterans and their sacrifices through the years. We discuss why people join the service, even when they know it may cost them their life. 
We have some fun, but we also talk about how the freedom we enjoy comes at a price.
Of course, there's also some complaining.
It's impossible to get elbow deep in cleaning the wings of an eagle that real birds have been roosting on without some griping. It's seriously gross, after all. But when those great big eagles are transformed from grungy back to their majestic glory, there's also pride. 
This year, we also had a conversation about how being brave doesn't mean not being scared - it means being scared and doing your job anyhow.
If you're a fighter pilot, that could mean flying into enemy territory and taking heavy fire. For a 7-year-old, being brave is trusting mom not to drop you while you painstakingly scrub the crud out of brass feathers eight feet off the ground with a toothbrush.
For any fighter pilot, those eight feet would be a cake walk, but for a kid who's somewhat afraid of heights and has a strong aversion to having anything goopy on his hands - finishing the cleaning job was pretty heroic.
The conversations are great, but mostly we do it to say thanks to the veterans who paid the ultimate price for the many freedoms we enjoy. The families, friends and comrades of the fallen are included in our expression of gratitude  - they deserve a nice, clean place to honor their loved ones.
I like to also think we're taking a small part of the load off the VFW members who spend untold hours preparing for this day. I've never heard a complaint from them about the work they do, but hopefully, we're making things a little easier for these people who continue to serve even though their years of military service have passed.
Even if I did it on the "wrong" day, I'm grateful for the opportunity my family had to start this strange new tradition.  I'm so very appreciative of the sacrifices that have been made to enable me to spend some great time with my kiddos, even while we're fervently wishing the darn birds would find somewhere else to roost.

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