Each Memorial Day, I think to my Family’s History…

Every Memorial Day weekend for a long time now, I get thinking to some conversations that happened during a few Memorial Day weekends so long ago- of our family history discussed, and always makes me think to many of my memories of when I was growing up, what my Grandparents, Great Uncle and Aunt told me about this holiday’s meaning and how it shaped part of my life…

When I was in High School, there was this one mandatory test the government does to see just how smart you are, and after if you are, the Recruiters have those test scores… It was because of these tests I was called down to Guidance Office about, I scored high and the Guidance Councilor told me he felt I should meet a few recruiters that were interested in me from the Army, the Air force and the Navy… He explained to me all had some sort of communications and photo departments and even commercial art, as he well knew my I was only interested in the Art…

I remember it was our birthday, as my Gram and I had birthdays just three days apart and always would share it together as I grew up… I told her of how interested the different branches of the military was in my test scores, thinking she would be so happy… Our family had a long history of those who had served I knew, but didn’t realize till that night just how much… She wasn’t happy at all with my telling her this…

In my living room my coffee table sits one of my grandfather’s Navy Chests from World War II, and between the chairs sits my great grandfathers World War I Army Chest… My Dad served in the Korean War… These things I knew from when I turned 13 and my Dad told me of these things, showing me the purple heart they had sent to Grandma…

But instead of my Gram being happy for my high test scores, her gray blue eyes showed deep concern and worry instead of happiness… She then told of our family history, or at least my Sir Name family history, and said I should talk more with my Mom, to find of her family history, as it is even deeper then the Taggart’s name…

She then told me of how my great, great’s, 5 times removed- stepped off the ship from Ireland only to be signed up for the Civil War… His son fraught in the Spanish-American War, then his son in the Army during WWI, then my grandfather enlisted in the Navy in WWII and my Dad served during the Korean War… Then she looked deep into my eyes and said to me; “Your family has served this country for five generations-five wars, through your Mom’s side even more- seven generations all the way back to the Revolution I believe- please, I think our family has given enough so one generation can choose not to fight for it”… Then a tear ran down her cheek, and she said; “Please use your talent, your gift and go to college for art, just think about it”…

So often as I grew up and especially while I stayed with them while attending Syracuse University, she would comment on just how much like my grandfather I was, more so then my Dad… He had a heavy step, thump of the heal when he walks, I on my toes as my grandfather did, and the creative and joking sparkle in my eyes that she loved so in him I also seemed to have inherited… When I look to what artwork I have of his, and in reading his writings to her, wish only to be able to be as good of an artist of words line and shade as he was…

Memorial weekend my senior year of high school the family did the normal yearly venture, going up to open the family cottage for the summer at Brantingham Lake in the Adirondacks of New York State… A beautiful cabin my great grandfather had bought when my Gram was a child, each year cousins and all would gather too clean it up, put the dock in and have a family weekend… Was this weekend my that I found my grandmother, Uncle Harry and Grandpa Davis sitting together on the font porch, watching the sun set on the lake below, their calling me over to talk some…

Gram asked me if I had made any choices about what to do after high school… I had told her that the Air force said I had the scores to be a pilot, the navy said I could be an officer after some added classes and the Army wanted to teach me photography and tech communications because of my test scores…  And I had received one acceptance into a small junior college in Boston for Commercial Art… There was a long moment of silence, all seemed in deep thought looking out over the lake…

My Grandfather spoke first, saying he had been in World War II, in the air force, his father had taught aironomics to pilots in World War I… He was a tech for the aiming devices for the large bombing planes while he was stationed in England during World War II… He said; “At the time I was single and it was the right thing to do, so I enlisted and was proud to have served my country and my father was also very proud to have served too”…

Then my Uncle Harry spoke… He said; “Charlie your grandfather grew up together, and we signed up the same day, we talked about it at length when the war had started over in Europe in the news and we chose to go into the Navy… I was proud I served my country, still am… Charlie went to to serve on a destroyer and I to another ship… We grew up together, he was my best friend, we fished, played sports, and he introduced me to your grandmother’s sister, Harriet, who I married”, who sat next to Gram… Then he said; “Your grandfather didn’t come back, and I lost my best and oldest friend”… There was a very odd silence then, my grandfather I was raised knowing was really my Step Grandfather who had married Gram after the war, she was a widow then…

Gram then said to me; “If it would help, Dane (Who she remarried and I knew as Grandpa) and I will bring you to Boston to visit that Art school you’ve been excepted to one weekend… She then seemed to lift the spirits of all there by talking about Boston, changing the subject some… It was then agreed, they would bring me to Boston… While there, it was easy to want to go to college instead of the military, to the relief of my grandmother’s worries…

Gram had given me this box of memories of my grandfather when I finished college in 1993, since then each Memorial Day I pull it out and read some of the letters… I had known some of his legacy being in Basketball for Syracuse University- http://www.orangehoops.org/ctaggart.htm Others are letters he had written to my Gram, their marriage certificate, some photos and the letters to her he had written… Lastly the Western Union letter from a Vice Admiral from the Navy, telling of my grandfather’s ship being sunk…

I sit in my studio now, a box of keepsakes on my drawing table, the letters from my grandfather to my Gram, reading one or two before I can no longer read from blurred site… Some of the envelopers have small bloated wrinkles here and there, watermarks that when I hold up to the light, some still sparkle of the salt still embedded in the parchment, my grandmother’s tears…

The same time period while in college, I got to spend time at Uncle Harry’s house, just a block through the park trail kiddy corner from my grandparents house… I was often over there helping Uncle Harry with things that needed doing around his house- my being his youth to his experience and teaching me some about carpentry and home maintenance… After his stroke, he was able to remember the times of his youth as if yesterday, but not were he had just set the house keys and would smile telling me of his memories he and just had… I would go over there to help with the house needs, and he would tell me stories of my grandfather and him growing up, fishing together, playing football and how much he respected him… I see now from the two letter I just read, how close they were, he mentioned Uncle Harry several times in each letter…

My 2nd semester, spring Memorial Day weekend at Uncle Harry’s we sat for a bit on his back porch and he told me stories of my grandfather while they were at cottage at the beginning of World War II… He told me of how my grandfather and he would go fishing at Otter Creek, a spot in the stream nicknamed “Nelly’s Hole” were one had to navigate through the forest off a dirt road to get to this area of the stream… Often this was were the boys of my family were taught how to use a campus and topographical map… This the family secret fishing spot of four generations that one could almost count on catch a day’s limit of wild brook trout… This was the creek the two of them would always catch and release the fish they caught, so the young boys would “Out Fish the Old Guys”, he described with a wink, remembering the first time I had “Out Fished the Great Fishermen Uncle Harry as a boy when I hit 12-ish… He winked to me and said; “The point was for you boys to have fun and enjoy fishing, and that was part of it, teaching you all how to catch big fish, which was something some of you always enjoyed and some never did, thinking to your Dad and a few of your cousins”…

He continued telling me to follow him to his desk, pulling out a few of his old fishing journals, opening them up to show me some of the pages of notes- Charlie-3, Harry- 4 at Nelly’s Hole, page after page of the two together or of others Uncle Harry had fished with over the years… Then he continued telling me what they talked about then- the war in Europe…  He pulled out of his desk a sketch then from another of his Fishing Journals, there was my Uncle Harry but young- a great pencil sketch of him smiling holding up a tiny brook trout and some other loose sketches of him, this huge man with a huge smile, broad chested man in flannel shirt with a funny hat fishing near a log or eddy behind a large rock that the streams and creeks of the area have near Brantingham Lake… Some old black and white photos of the two together as kids with cane fishing poles… He told me how hard of a choice it

for the two of them make together, to leave our family’s and all you knew to fight for our country… He laughed as he showed me the sketches, then more of his journals, 60+ years of fishing, small pocket journals with sketches of maps of streams, near by restaurants and what kind of pies were good, with a star system next to the names…   What he said was the 2nd most important thing to a good weekend fishing was a good piece of pie with a mug of hot coffee before and after…

The Letter No Mother or Wife ever wants to receive… This one addressed to my Great Grandmother…

Was then he looked to me and smiled, “Glad you chose to go into college”, as he handed me some topographical maps that had the streams in the area trout streams… He winked and said; “Let me know where you’re going, I’ll let you know where the best coffee and slice of pie is between here and there are”…

So with each memorial day, I get sad thinking tot he pain, remembering the sorrow in my Gram’s eyes, and also remember the happy times she shared with him…  And then I sit how it was some of those Memorial Days and understanding my Families history that helped shape my life…

April 24, 1945 the USS Frederick C. Davis DE 136 was sunk by German submarine U-546 in the North Atlantic 115 men lost…

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