As I write these few words in the early afternoon of Memorial Day, I look out from patio to the vegetable garden in the backyard of the home where I grew up. My Dad, 94 in early July, labors slowly but surely to mulch last year’s leaves for use in rows of onions, potatoes and the usual It’s good for you! stuff. Every few minutes he stops, sits in the old steel lawn chair mostly covered with paint.

I don’t understand why I get winded so easily, he says.

I reply, Do you remember I used to tell you when you got to 90, you would finally be old?

Yes, he nods.

Well, you made it. You definitely are old now.

Mother has been gone now almost three years, and Dad still says frequently, I just can’t seem to get over losing her.

I usually reply, probably too glibly, you aren’t supposed to get over that, Dad. You don’t have to and there is no good reason why you should.

I thought about many topics for today’s column, but this one came to me very late. When I think of Memorial Day I too obviously reflect on the brave but ordinary American citizens that have given their last full measure of devotion for the rest of us, most perhaps like me who drew a high number and chose to go on to college or other work rather than volunteer for Asian duty.  

But I also think of the everyday courage of our forebears who taught us our essential character traits. Reverend Fulghum might have learned everything he needed to know in kindergarten, but frankly, I think my Mom and Dad taught me my most important lessons – seemingly trite concepts such as anything worth doing is worth doing well, don’t quit until the job is finished, and your word is your bond.

My parents were givers. The garden is not about saving money– it is about working to have an abundance to share with others.

Life is about perseverance. Only in my middle age did I learn that my grandfather, an Eastern Jackson County grain farmer using a team of horses up into the 1950s, stuck by my grandmother, a regularly unpleasant and demanding wife. The phrase “till death do us part” was more than just nice words to them.

I think of a Christian businessman who once spoke at our Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast. At the peak of his career with a number of sales offices around the country with all of the attending contracts for space and services, the primary company he represented cut him off, leaving him with an impossible situation. Go ahead and take bankruptcy was the only advice anyone gave him. Instead he trusted God and worked on diligently until several hundred thousands of dollars were repaid.

The greatness of our country lies in the lives of these people, unsung heroes who got up early every day whether or not they felt like it and did their best for their families, their friends, their country. They do the right things whether their circumstances seem fair or not, whether the government makes it more attractive to collect benefits than work to support themselves, whether everyone else is taking cash to escape income and payroll tax-you know whereof I write. I thank God for them.

When parents stop teaching their own children high and noble character traits or split up because they are unhappy and they deserve to be happy, when most people do only enough to get by, take advantage of everything and everyone they can because if they don’t, someone else will beat them to it – this is when our nation ceases to be great or to deserve to be called the land of the free and the home of the brave.