Sunday, May 24, 2015

2015 May 24: Flags In

It's Memorial Day weekend back in the United States, so to commemorate in a small way I created a Sri Lankan inspired traditional American meal. It's nothing compared to the backyard BBQs, camp outs, and picnics back home, but this year, for reasons that follow, I wanted to do a little something even though we are not in the States.

First, I made plain rice. We never know who is going to show up to visit, so I always make a lot of food on Sundays, and rice is quick and easy and filling.

Next, instead of potato salad or baked potatoes, I made the potatoes that we all love, the ones that I bake in the oven with onion and garlic and turmeric and which are always a hit with visitors and even with the readers of our blog who have tried them.

Instead of devilled eggs, I just made boiled eggs. There are two reasons for this. First, mayo goes bad quickly in the heat, so leaving the mayo out of a dish is a prudent thing to do. Second, I suck at peeling eggs. My friend Champika told me to add salt to the water and the eggs will peel perfectly. It works for her.... but my peeled boiled eggs continue to look like someone used power tools on them! I shouldn't be surprised - thirty years later my family still loves to tease me about the time I burned the boiled eggs. 

Finally, I made coleslaw. Steve doesn't like coleslaw - he will eat it if I make it, but he doesn't like it. But me? I love coleslaw. I think it runs in the family. I remember when my brother was younger - he may have been in Grade 3 - and he would ask mom to make coleslaw every night. He could not get enough.

I put a Sri Lankan twist on today's version, however. Here is the recipe:
Put the following into a large bowl:
  • 1/2 a shredded purple cabbage
  • 1/2 a shredded green cabbage
  • 1 very thinly sliced purple onion
  • 2 very large grated carrots
In another bowl, mix together:
  • 2/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup of your favourite white, cider, or white wine vinegar (I used coconut vinegar)
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of curry powder
Taste and add more salt or curry powder if needed - it will vary depending on the type of vinegar.
Pour over vegetables and mix well.
A friend from church and her twelve year old son came to visit after church, so we shared our simple meal with them. They both loved the coleslaw, and I have to admit that it was pretty good. And hey, if a twelve year old boy likes it, it can't be half bad!

But I digress....

The summer between Grade 11 and Grade 12 I was blessed to have won a speech contest. It was sponsored by the International Order of Oddfellows and Rebekahs, and the grand prize was a bus tour with two hundred seventy other youth from across North America of Ottawa and thirteen states, and four days at the United Nations. The program still exists, and I would highly recommend it. You can learn about the Pilgrimage for Youth by clicking here.

One of the places that we visited was Arlington National Cemetery. I remember walking though the acres and acres of clean white crosses and being overwhelmed by the sense of loss and sacrifice that was represented there. It was truly one of the most memorable experiences of the trip for me. Little did I know about my own connection to this place.

On this Memorial Day weekend, I would like to pay tribute to a family member that I learned about recently from my father and his cousin Marjorie Hodgson, who lives in Vermont. In addition to being an avid genealogist, Marjorie continues to paint even though she is now, for all intents and purposes, blind. Normally I reserve such sentiments as those that follow for Canada's Remembrance Day, as can be read about here, but it is fitting that I tell this person's story today.

Sarah Maude Pittman was born December 21, 1896, in Hickman's Harbour, Trinity Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, to John and Mary "Polly" (nee Blundell) Pittman. She was the third of seven children, and was my father's mother's great aunt. Maude, as she was known, served in World War I, and somehow made it to the United States where she married Albert Blundon. She and Albert made their home in Somerville, Massachusetts. In August 1927, at age 30, she died while giving birth to their first child, and the babe died just two months later. She was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

When I saw photos of American soldiers planting flags on each of the four hundred thousand graves in Arlington National Cemetery this past week in their annual Flags In day, I could not help but think that I am so grateful that someone has been remembering this lost member of our family every year. With her emigration to another country, her dying so young, her husband now long gone, her only child passing so soon after her own death, there is no family nearby to lovingly tend her resting place, to remember her as they pass by, or even to simply clear her grave every now and then as those of us who regularly visit cemeteries do just because a grave needs some attention or because the surname is familiar. For eighty eight years her grave has been tended with care and her service during WWI commemorated by groundskeepers and soldiers and perhaps a passing tourist or family members of others buried nearby.

Whether one agrees with war or not, whether one supports war or not, it is important to remember that some of us, our brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, cousins and friends, are willing to put their lives on the line for us and for their country. Please honour them, and my great aunt Maude, by taking a moment to watch this touching short video.