#173: Nelly Sleeps

June 5th, 2013

The cannons fire and the crowds wave flags while, under the ground, Nelly sleeps.

The headless lamb, an ancient grave marker decapitated by time, lets us know that Nelly sleeps. No date. No last name. Just three weatherworn words embossed on white marble: “Our Nelly Sleeps.”

Above the ground, the Memorial Day crowd waits for the men in Civil War uniforms to stop reading names of the war dead so they can hear the cannons fire off. It’s what “most, if not all of you are here for,” one of the re-enactor officers jokes with resignation to the red, white, blue crowd under the grim, cloudy sky.

Children play tag among the graves.

“If you get tagged, you’re dead!” a little white boy yells to his friends.

A mother makes her child pose on a curved gravestone for a photo. She wants to show Facebook how well her child balances.

The crowd waves flags and claps at appropriate times as the men in Union uniforms talks about the sacrifices of the dead. The parents are mostly proper, the children always children. A few old men sit tucked under blankets in lawn chairs.

ROTC groups from different high schools marched in the parade that led the crowd up to Rosehill. Police bagpipers played George M. Cohan songs. “Grand Old Flag.” “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” “Over There.”

But the parade was over now. The crowd suffered through remembering the Civil War dead and a primer on the history of Memorial Day becoming a federal holiday. A chaplain in a Union uniform in a few deft words trivialized any besmirch on the loving, kind, super-cool God who watches His children slice each other open and rain death.

He asks how God could allow war, allow pain, allow death, allow his basement to flood a week earlier. The crowd laughs at that last switch. He’s a very clever chaplain. “Thou Shalt Not Kill” from a man in an army uniform.

The families wait for the talk to end. They wait for the cannons to go boom boom so they can leave and warm up after the chill spring morning. The firing guns will blast the names of the dead out of the audience’s mind. The martial dead’s moment of being remembered will be gone. Those unfortunate enough to die in peace aren’t remembered at all. Time is the enemy of both lion and lamb.

And under it all, under the waving flags and booming cannons, under the trappings of war, under the balancing children, police pipers, marching teens, gray skies and under a marble lamb broken off at a neck worn smooth by time. Under it all, Nelly sleeps.

Comment on this story

Read more lost memories

What's this?

You are currently reading #173: Nelly Sleeps by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

  • -30-