4th of July in Hobbs, New Mexico, USA, 1961

In today’s blog, Royce shares a brief memoir she recently wrote, along with a poem that was inspired as she reflected on that story this week, on Memorial Day here in the USA.

I have early memories of learning new words and the concepts they represented. The following is a bit of my history about the day I learned the word “democracy.” This week, after Memorial Day here in the USA, I wrote the poem below the story. It feels like an apt way to complete this bit of memory.

Democracy is More than a Word

Running breathless, I try to escape my boy cousins who light firecrackers and throw them carelessly—too close for comfort. The sour, gunpowder grayness seeps into the back of my throat, and I need to cough. I swallow hard to rid myself of the dense, heavy smell. I run from the fear triggered by those exploding flashes of fire.

I feel the evening dampness on my bare feet. The grasses tickle me as I run. Gray gunpowder gives way to the smell of greenness that escapes the blades as they break under my careless toes.

I run to the circle where the men are sitting—my dad and two of my uncles. I smell the smoke of cigarettes and Uncle Brooks’ sweet-scented cigar. It smells like burning sugar. My eyes water as I step into the safe space between my dad’s knees. It’s a comfortable place to rest, and there are no firecrackers.

The men tell stories of their war: World War 2—the “War to End All Wars!” One uncle fought in the Pacific, and one fought in Africa. My dad served in the killing German winter of the Battle of the Bulge. Under the scent of burning tobacco, I sniff the beer and whiskey they drink as they “gloriate”. They brag that today is about the democracy we can celebrate because they and their friends fought so hard when they were young in both body and soul. 

Democracy—I feel the word in my mouth. I know I’ve never heard it before.

I didn’t know what it meant, then. But today, as I watch news of culture wars, loss of voting and personal rights, political corruption, and dissension,  I remember that night. And I know what democracy smells like.

To the Soldiers

Who defend the essence of this country—Freedom

--To choose,
--To vote,
--To speak,
--To know justice.

Democracy for each; democracy for all—
Coming more slowly than even the end of the War.

My father, returned to a land he fought for but didn’t recognize back home.

--Freedom was a privilege.
--The vote came slowly to some.
--Speech could be costly.
--Justice was limited.

He learned to drink after that war, and sometimes I wonder:

Was it to forget the cold, the fear, the death at the Battle of the Bulge?
Or did he drink to escape the raw truth that what he fought for was not everyone’s lived reality at home?

Thanks and be in touch,


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