While most people count the usual suspects such as Christmas and Thanksgiving as their favorite holidays, mine are Memorial Day and Independence Day.
I just love what those days stand for. I love the atmosphere.
Where on Christmas and Thanksgiving we all kind of retreat to our own corners and celebrate quietly with our families, Memorial Day and Independence Day are opportunities for entire communities to come out and get together and celebrate not only our freedom, but the men and women who served and sacrificed so that we can have it and enjoy it.
My love of Memorial Day started long ago. I can remember, as a little girl in New Jersey, getting dressed up and going to all the cemeteries where my family members were laid to rest. It was important to my Grandma Ruth, who died in 1979, that we decorate the graves of her parents, brothers and sisters.
I remember one year ... I was probably 4 ... we went even though there was a torrential downpour. My mother put my sister and I in our rain slickers with the matching hats and boots, and off we went.
As I got older, I learned more about Memorial Day and its meaning.
I was in the marching band at my high school. I played the trumpet, and by my sophomore year I was one of the two trumpeters that played "Taps" during Memorial Day services at the cemetery in my hometown.
The first two years, I was the echo. After the band marched into the cemetery, I would quietly slip from my rank, go down a hill and stand behind a big oak tree.
I would listen, and a veteran from the American Legion would shout the command for the squad to fire a 21-gun salute. They would fire their rifles into the air, and the same veteran would instruct them to put down their rifles.
A few seconds later, I would hear David Fillmore play the haunting notes of "Taps." When he was finished, I would wait two or three seconds, and I would repeat what David had just played.
I was only 15 years old, but even then I understood who I was playing for and what an honor it was. I was a child and it was daunting to stand in that silent cemetery and have the notes from my trumpet be the only sound anyone was making, but I did it with pride.
My senior year, David had graduated and I was the first "Taps" player. That was also the year I was asked to stand at a podium and read the "The Gettysburg Address."
As I read into the microphone, I heard my voice bounce across the cemetery, and I was awed to be reading the words Abraham Lincoln had said during the Civil War, on Nov. 19, 1863, at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pa.:
"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this."
Indeed it was.
From those first experiences, I gained a lifelong love of Memorial Day, of all that it means.
When you see those veterans standing outside the store collecting donations and handing out artificial poppies, make sure you thank them --and consider where you might be if it weren't for them.
Jamie Barrand is the editor of the Banner Graphic.