Monday, May 28, 2012

Jack Kerouac and Memorial Day

Jack Kerouac's grave in Lowell, MA, October 2011
(c) Rick Dale 2011
It's Memorial Day here in the U.S. It's always the last Monday in May, and it's a federal holiday. Originally called Decoration Day, it was dedicated to remembering the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Now it has morphed into a day for remembering the dead in general, military or not. When I was in high school, there was always a parade through town that culminated in the cemetery. Veterans gave speeches and it was a solemn atmosphere. As one of the lead trumpet players in the marching band, there was always a point in the ceremony where I played taps. Most of the time there were three of us who played taps, one of us close by, one of us farther away, and one of us quite far away. It gave those in attendance kind of an eerie effect as each iteration of taps came from farther away in the cemetery. It's common to see people visit cemeteries and leave flowers on the graves of loved ones. I don't do that, in part because my nuclear family members are all buried or interred 550 miles away. Even when I lived nearby I seldom visited, Memorial Day or not. If I were there today I think I might. Age has a way of increasing one's sentimentality.

But back to Jack Kerouac. Don't be confused - I hadn't mentioned him yet. I just wanted to see if you were paying attention. In Douglas Brinkley's Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac 1947-1954, there are two entries on Memorial Day: May 31, 1948 and May 30, 1949. I only know those dates were Memorial Days courtesy of Google and being able to pull up calendars from 1948 and 1949 (with only a couple of clicks!).

Because, you see, Jack doesn't mention Memorial Day in either entry. Neither does he mention any activity that could reasonably be attributed to Memorial Day festivities. In 1948 he is in N.Y. and talks of typing 4,000 words and "the fear of virtue." In 1949 he is in Colorado and talks of being scheduled to ride in a rodeo at Table-Top (perhaps a Memorial Day activity?) but missed it because he was too sore from riding the previous day.

My copy of Memory Babe is with Crystal at camp, so I can't reference it to see if there is more about Jack and Memorial Day. A Google search yielded nothing of note, but we can say with certainty that Jack was alive on 47 Memorial Days from 1922-1969. That isn't much, but it's something. I can imagine little Jack watching the annual parade in Lowell, MA, attending the accompanying festivities and scampering around with his friends, enjoying the freedom of having the day off from school and thinking about the meal Memere would have waiting for him back at the house.

As someone recently wrote, "it's not National Barbecue Day," so take a moment and remember the dead. Jack would approve. You don't have to write an entire book about it like he did (e.g., Visions of Gerard), but you could at least pause for a moment and contemplate loved ones lost and all those who died in service to our country. It's okay to do the latter even if you're a rabid anti-war type - I give you permission.

We remember you, Jack, with or without all the hoopla of THE MOVIE.

And I remember Billy, Hugh, James, Elizabeth, and many others who took on the void in years past.


Anonymous said...

And though Jack was rapidly released for the Military, it did not make him a coward, as he later crossed the Atlantic serving aboard a Convoy Vessel. This is what his unedited book "The Sea is my brother" has been written about.

J.A. Michel Bornais
Le Trésor des Kirouac Editing Team

Lance Gurwell said...

If you love the Beats, see my original photographs taken 30 years abo in Boulder, CO, at the 25th anniversary celebration of the publication of "On the Road." Ginsberg, Burroughs, Corso, Holmes, etc.