This afternoon I decided to watch some of the coverage of President Gerald Ford’s funeral. In particular, I wanted to see the motorcade pause in front of the World War II Memorial, as well as the ceremony at the Capitol.
I didn’t realize there would be a 21-gun salute, so I wasn’t ready for it. Dammit.
There are two things in this world that I absolutely hate and could do just fine without ever being exposed to again: The first is the aforementioned 21-gun salute and the second is “Taps.” At any time. Ever. For any reason or occasion.
Why? Simply put, they remind me of a very, very cold day in January 1992. How cold? Well, the temperatures were unseasonably low that winter. I remember there were a lot of complaints about broken pipes and BigBob was out in the back yard doing something to ours to prevent them from bursting (wrapping them?), but if I recall correctly not all of his efforts succeeded. I think we too had to replace at least one.
Right now it is a typical 40 or so degrees here in livable, lovable Lodi and it will probably drop into the high 20’s overnight. Cold enough to put some frost on the roofs and car windows in the morning, but not cold enough to snow. During most days, the temperature climbs up into the 50’s.
So it was very unusual for the daytime temperature to be hovering around 17 degrees that year. So unusual, in fact, that I had to go out and buy a heavy coat and gloves because I didn’t own proper attire to wear to a cemetery under such circumstances.
You see, my father died on January 18, 1992, so we’re fast approaching the 15th anniversary of his death. That part alone is hard enough to grasp.
But what I remember most about his funeral — and was reminded of today watching President Ford’s — was the latter part, held at the cemetery. I remember walking with my mother holding onto my arm toward those flimsy green cemetery chairs they set up on the lawn. I remember having to walk very deliberately because my feet were so cold I could not feel them, and thinking to myself that I just wanted this outdoor portion of the service to be over quickly.
It was one of those days where it was so cold that it seemed like most sounds in the world had been stifled so that the ones you do hear give the impression that they’ve been amplified exponentially. People call days like that “crisp”. You know the kind I’m talking about: The air is absolutely clear and so cold that you can almost reach out and hold pieces of it in your hand, even though the sun may be shining.
My father, a World War II veteran who served in Australia and the Philippines, was to be accorded full military honors.
But nobody thought to warn me about the guns. Believe it or not, I had never, ever been where a gun was being fired.
So there I was in that flimsy green chair next to my mother, listening to the pastor read Scripture and pray. Then there was the folding of the flag which was presented to my mother. I was so busy watching the way the flag was folded and studying my mother’s face as she tried desperately to maintain her composure, that I didn’t see the gunmen (is that what you call them?) taking their positions on my opposite side.
And then they fired the rifles.
I think I jumped about three feet into the air. Never before or since have I ever felt so rudely jolted, startled, or surprised. For several very long minutes, I felt like every nerve ending in my body had been shoved into a blender on the highest setting. It was one of the most unpleasant moments I have ever experienced and one that I do not savor.
Today, when the camera panned to the soldier aiming the rifle, I realized what was about to happen, but I wasn’t able to get out of the room fast enough so I heard the shots. And the memories of that cold winter day in January came flooding back.
Mercifully, today’s ceremony did not include the playing of “Taps.” That was almost as disturbing on that cold January day, probably because it immediately followed the shots. Doesn’t matter. It still upsets me to hear it.
I am always amazed by these kind of experiences, finding myself surprised by the power of certain memories. Catching me off-guard, they always leave me feeling a bit disoriented for awhile.
Feel free to share a memory — happy, sad, scared, mad. . . — and its impact upon you in the Comments section.