When we were young, every Memorial Day our family would join others in my father’s VFW Post 6909 in going to the local cemetery to pay tribute to the veterans. I remember the day as somewhat solemn for my parents, especially for my mother and grandmother, as they wandered through the cemetery visiting graves of loved ones including my grandfather. My mother and her twin would sometimes laugh and tell stories as they pointed to various headstones and remembered anecdotes of those who were buried there— former neighbors, family friends, parents of friends. Wherever they stopped and talked, they left a stone on the marker.
At a certain point we would all gather in the center of the cemetery in the bright and hot sun, around a flagpole, where almost a dozen men my father’s age (all World War II veterans) dressed in partial military uniform (partial because they only wore the shirts of their former uniforms which barely buttoned across their bellies) lined up with rifles. My Uncle Fred, carefully neat and conservative, always seemed to be in charge.
On a particular Memorial Day some 50 years ago, after some formal words by a few semi-uniformed gentlemen, my uncle, proud and in control, turned to the dozen men and shouted, “Ready.” The men stiffened, all holding their rifles in front of them in relative similar angles. “Aim.” The men lifted their rifles to their shoulders, aiming away from the crowd of onlookers.
Before my Uncle Freddy was able to form the word himself, my sister, in a meek little girl’s voice (maybe she was 4 or 5), said, “Fire.” Five of the men fired. A few others looked bewilderingly around; a couple of the men fired a few seconds after the first six had. Then there was one, then two more shots. The line of men was a mess, each man looking to the one next to him, arguing, trying to figure out what just happened.
Of course, the rest of us had broken into near hysterical laughter, that is, until we saw Uncle Freddy’s face. It only makes it worse, of course, when you are trying to stifle laughter. I remember my mother turning to us, a finger to her lips, signaling us to stop laughing while she was desperately trying to stifle her own, causing tears to run down her face.
Staring at us all, especially at my sister, Uncle Freddy tried a second time. “Ready.” The men had collected themselves again and held the guns in loose symmetry across their chests. “Aim.” The men raised their rifles to their shoulders with a hint of timidness about them, Uncle Freddy raising his chin toward my sister. My mother was standing behind my sister and slowly moved her cupped hand across my sister’s mouth. Looking directly and severely into my sister’s eyes, Uncle Freddy said, “Fire.” There was firing in unison. All the men turned to look at my sister, then to Uncle Fred. It was now my sister who looked proud and in control.
The cemetery was located far from where we lived. I remember all of us, leaving the cemetery in our yellow Ford Fairlane, uncontrollably laughing all the way home.