A/N: This story may need a hankie alert - but your experience may be different.



The Last Monday in May

Memorial Day was one of his earliest memories - the ones before the drinking started and before his Dad got so angry. On the Sunday before Memorial Day, Joseph Booth would take his son to church. After mass the two of them would drive over to Westminster Cemetery in nearby Bala Cynwyd and join the other volunteers placing flags on the graves of the veterans. There were always lots of volunteers at the nearby Laurel Hill Cemetery, but not always so many at Westminster.

Pops always went somewhere else on that Sunday before Memorial Day. It wasn't until years later that Seeley would learn about Pops' own tradition. But the time at Westminster was just him and his Dad. By the time Jared was old enough to join them in placing the flags, his Dad's drinking had started, but that's another story for another time.

There were always other volunteers, more some years than others - depending if one of the local news outlets had run a story, and usually depending on the weather. But he and his Dad were there every year from as far back as he could remember. They'd stand in line waiting to get their flags and their map. Then the two of them would head out and they'd start placing the flags and visiting with "the heroes" as his Dad called them.

Some years they'd get a section with World War II veterans. They would walk among the upright white headstones, and Joseph Booth would share stories. "Did Pops ever tell you about that time . . . ?" He'd ask his son, then citing some incident Pops had shared about his time during the War. He'd continue on without waiting for an answer. "The Forty-First Infantry Division," he would say as he walked among the stones. "That was Pops' Division. The Sunset Division. South Pacific." Joseph Booth would stop at each grave, come to attention, and salute. Then he would bend down and place one of the small flags. Seeley would follow behind reading the names aloud as they came to each stone, listening as his father talked, and handing the next flag to his father.

Some years they got a section with Vietnam veterans. To Seeley it always seemed that this section was more difficult for his Dad than the other sections. These stones were more often flat headstones rather than the upright ones in the other military sections. His Dad would walk among the graves, talking about his time in Vietnam with the 1st Infantry Division, like Pops, he didn't really talk too much about the horrors of war. He'd tell a story about when he had to fill in at the mess tent, or a prank he and some buddies had pulled on another, but just like with the World War II vets, Joseph Booth kept up a running commentary as they made their way among the fallen heroes.

He never let the stories keep him from showing respect at each gravestone. Just like he did for the other Veterans, at each headstone he would pause, come to attention, salute, and place the flag. Seeley would watch as his father would occasionally kneel down and clean the overgrown grass from a stone or straighten a bouquet of flowers. Every once in awhile, he'd pause longer than at the other graves. Seeley knew that when that happened, it was another 1st Infantry soldier. His Dad would bow his head, make the sign of the cross, and say a prayer. Closing with another sign of the cross, he'd stand again at attention, salute, and reach for the flag that Seeley knew to have at the ready.

Looking around the cemetery Seeley would see a similar scene being played out in other sections of the cemetery with other fathers and their children. After all of the flags had been placed, they would head back over to the check-in table and turn in their map and any left-over flags. Some years they'd each be handed a bag with a sandwich, a can of soda, and a piece of fruit. A couple times they were given gift certificates to a local restaurant or the local McDonalds.

On the ride home his Dad was usually quiet. Seeley would watch him gather his thoughts as they headed down the Schuykill expressway, about the time they got to Girard Avenue his Dad would start talking. He'd talk about the men he had known in Vietnam. His buddies that didn't make it home, his best friend Rocky. Sometimes he'd talk about basic training but mostly he talked about being "in country." Sometimes he'd talk about some of the guys that he was still in touch with.

When they got home, they would usually leave the car in the driveway. The two of them would head into the garage and his Dad would reach up and get the empty coffee cans down from the shelf where they'd been stashed. His Dad would pull a roll of aluminum foil from the shelf next to the freezer. Then the two of them would head over to the picnic table in the backyard and start covering the cans in foil. After the cans were covered, they would put them in the trunk of the car and then head back into the garage where he and Seeley would get the American flag ready for the next day.

While his Dad checked the flag, the pole, and the fastenings, Seeley would check the flag mount on the corner of the garage. He'd pull over the little step stool that was stashed just inside the garage door and climb up to make sure that the mount was secure. He'd pause up there on that step stool, breathing in the evening air, warm, almost-but-not-quite yet a summer evening. The smell of fresh cut grass in the air. The water sprinkler sweeping back and forth across the lawn. His mother's red geraniums in the flowerbeds. The soft scent of her rose bushes tickling his nose. The snowball bush at the corner of the house, branches moving slightly in a light breeze.

The next morning Pops and Grams would come over just after an early breakfast. They'd all stand on the driveway as Joseph Booth brought the flag and handed it to his father. Seeley, Grams, and his Mom would stand with their hands over their hearts while Pops placed the flag into the holder. Then Pops would step back and he and Joseph, as one, would snap to attention and salute the flag.

While the men took care of packing the car with the picnic basket, beverages, some lawn chairs, and Seeley's baseball mitt and his bat, Grams and his Mom would go and gather flowers from the garden. There were always some branches from his Mom's snowball bush. There were roses and daisies and just about anything else that might be in bloom.

Once everything was packed into the two vehicles, Joseph and Milly would get in the car and Seeley would climb into the station wagon with Pops and Grams. They would caravan back over to the Westminster cemetery for the services that the VFW held in the World War II section.

Seeley was moved by each part of the Memorial Service presented by the VFW members. Everything from the invocation to the presentation of colors, the participation by the Ladies Auxiliary, the 21 gun salute, and then finally the benediction. After the service as other members dispersed, his family would head back over to their cars and set up the flowers in the foil covered coffee cans. Seeley would take an extra uncovered can over to the water spigot on the curve of the drive and he'd bring back water to add for the flowers. Then as a group the family would walk over and place flowers on graves. They always took the first bouquet over to the World War I section where Seeley's great-grandparents were buried. Then in the World War II section they'd place a bouquet on the grave of Pops' younger brother who had been lost on D-Day. In the Vietnam section they would place a bouquet on the grave of Rocky Cooper, his Dad's best friend from high school. Joseph and Rocky had joined the Army together the week after graduation.

After the flowers had been placed, they would all pile back in the car and head over to Belmont Grove in Fairmount Park for the annual VFW picnic. Some of the men had the grills going and later there would be hot dogs and beans, chips and soda. After lunch there would be a watermelon eating contest for the kids. Some of the men would gather at the horseshoe pits and the sound of metal hitting metal could be heard.

Although there weren't alot of Vietnam veterans in his Dad's VFW post, there were a few others who had joined. Mostly sons of World War II veterans who already belonged. Many of the World War II veterans would have their children and their grand children at the picnic. There were always plenty of kids available for a game of softball after lunch (with very lenient rules).

These were Seeley Booth's earliest memories of Memorial Day. Shortly Jared would come along. A few years after that his Dad's drinking would get out of control and his anger would come out with more and more frequency. Not long after that, Milly passed away and then things seemed to get worse for the two boys. One day his Dad was gone and Pops took Seeley and Jared to live with him and Grams.

Last year, he and Bones had just crossed his invisible line when Memorial Day came along. As the holiday approached, he'd shared his memories with her. In the week before the holiday, he and Parker had gone over to Arlington National Cemetery and stood in line with other volunteers to get their map and their flags. The two of them had walked among the tombstones saluting and placing flags. Booth had spent Sunday morning with Pops and then that evening he and Bones had walked over to the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol for the annual National Memorial Day Concert. On the last Monday of May, they had attended services at Arlington and watched the laying of the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Afterwards, they'd walked over to Teddy Parker's grave. Booth knelt and crossed himself, said a silent prayer and crossed himself again. Standing, he snapped to attention and saluted the fallen hero who had been his friend.

These were the traditions that he wanted to hand down to his children. But life can change in an instant, it can turn on a dime. Parker was with Rebecca this year and they were out-of-town. Booth had spent this morning with Pops, as was their custom these last few years. He hadn't made it to the concert this year, he certainly hadn't been up to it emotionally - he couldn't even imagine going without Bones - and the weather had been threatening. As he watched the telecast of the concert, he heard the announcement broadcast by the Capitol Police to leave the area. He left the television turned on, more to have noise in the background, but also out of curiosity about what was going to happen with the performers as the audience departed. He laughed to himself as the televised portion of the concert was ended and the broadcast of last year's concert started playing. He couldn't help but think again of something he frequently heard from Hank, his GA sponsor, "You plan and God laughs."

He was determined that he would get through this. They would get through this. They would survive. Tomorrow morning he would pick up Pops and they would go to a local cemetery and attend the VFW memorial service. He would cut some branches from the snowball bush he and Bones had planted just off the deck out their back door. He and Pops would find a grave to leave the flowers. And next year. Next year they would be together. He refused to let this continue. He and the squints would find an answer and Bones and Christine would come home.



A/N: Reference is made in this story to a tradition between Booth and Pops. For more on this, see Peanut Butter Sandwiches and Cokes by FaithnBones - and if you enjoy it, leave her a review! And if you enjoyed this little one-shot about Booth's Memorial Day memories, I would appreciate you clicking on that little blue button and leaving me a review, too!