In memoriam


We see Memorial Day memories’ posters with a friend beaming in a Del Benson photo. My students thought he was my brother. Lino Olopai is the closest “brother” I have on island, by propensity and intention! His photo graced Memorial Day posters at PSS. We may become neighbors. I hope to move out of Finasisu by the NM College soon, as the knees no longer could countenance the walk back up hill from the lagoon.

Memorial Day remembers those who died in the service of the country. It merged the two previously separate Confederate and Union observances of bringing flowers and flags to the graves of fallen soldiers.

The U.S. has terms like the Jubilee Day after the Revolutionary War, first memorialized on the last Monday of May in 1783 to the analogous observance Down Under on April every year. We also have Remembrance, Armistice, Veterans, Heroes, and Patriot Days do deal with memories, even as Volkstrauertag (People’s Mourning) has been observed in Germany since 1919. The CNMI is a natural AMP!

I received a copy of a colleague mother’s memorial celebration program recently. She was 101 when she sounded “taps.” She reminds me of my 95-year-old mother pining time away at a Honolulu hospice. Memorial Day commemorates those who gave their lives to their country in military arms; perhaps, we might also let the memory of other productive arms, particularly those of Mamas, be worth the memory. “Memorial” is now a word with a wider meaning more than recalling the death of warriors in battle!

In a tree stump by the athletic field of NMC by Apa Road is a wreath at a spot where an early morning accident occurred that took two lives. In memoriam is appropriate for the spot as every life snuffed at its prime, gender and age notwithstanding, is worth the memory. That someone deems it worth the flowers to mark the spot is a heritage born out of a refined sense of finite life and the profound depth of terminus.

Memorial Day signals the start of summer as Labor Day marks its end in September, the latter being the onset of fall when children return to school. The CNMI follows the same schedule, in tune with mainland educational rhythm. Post-high school scholars go off-island to college on the same schedule. Never mind that the percentage of those who attend post-HS is a minority to the whole.

But life is probably what Memorial Day should best signify now that the theme of death and rebirth has joined the commemoration, rather than just the memory of those who died serving their country. If spring brings new life after the winter cold, then summer is the fullness of adulthood in bloom. Memorial Day marks the first day of summer!

I remember heading for Paris late ‘70s in August when all the northern France workers head for Nice, the professional middle class to Marseilles, and the sockless cardigans to Corsica, peopling the western gulf of the Mediterranean for four weeks, leaving the Arabs and the Africans to mind the shops at Montmartre. It was eerie in a perverse sense as “foreigners” took over the City of Lights. And damn expensive! I planned for a weeklong walking tour along the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre; I lasted two days before the francs ran out.

August was France’s holiday, the apex of summer, where the price of Avignon wine was higher than normal. Of course, sniffing the cork is a French pastime, and Gaul has the nose for it. My proletarian Portuguese porto needed no nose and sniff.

For some of us, the summer is a hustle. Regular teachers engage in income-generating jobs to fill in the purse, and sub-teachers like me try to remain solvent pinching pennies to survive.

Liberation festivities is a good way to start summer, though we are told that the day was a release from confinement imposed on the locals after WWII when indigenes were lumped with WWII combatants before being released “out of barracks.” Regardless, with the hoopla of a parade, and the young beauties emptying the shop of the least intrusive but effective cover-up mascara and Victoria Secrets in the market, this is still liberation.

In the tropics, summer hosts the least active time of the year. Folks sit in their verandas or under a tree and fan themselves to siesta. We live in an island where the breeze carries the heat offshore and the weather stays comfortable all year round, even in the wet. So fanning is for hiding the gossip and toning down the ladies’ giggles.

Public functionaries are expected to be inactive this time of the year, even as some in government manage to find ways of doing the same all year round, I am told. (Not funny but a good joke.)

The local dailies carry “memorials” all year round. There is promise of new life in the bye-and-bye in the current metaphor. Having given up the metaphor of sky-bound spirituality, I find in an archaic language of memorials, and a beaming Lino in Memorial Day posters, a liberated defiance from finitude. We will keep the defiance, thank you, and upgrade the metaphor.

Jaime R. Vergara | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Jaime Vergara previously taught at SVES in the CNMI. A peripatetic pedagogue, he last taught in China but makes Honolulu, Shenyang, and Saipan home. He can be reached at

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