Memorial Day memories rush in
April E. Clark
The upcoming Memorial Day weekend is bittersweet for me this year.
I know families grieving loved ones who died serving in the U.S. Armed Forces feel this every May.
Just one month and 10 days ago, my family lost my grandpa to pneumonia. I still feel numb about it. His passing is like a bad dream, and I still feel like I’ll be flying home for Christmas to spend the holiday with him in December. I still expect to see him when I go home again. I will miss having our photo taken together — he was a photogenic guy — and kissing him goodbye. I wonder what he’s been up to lately, if he’s watching over me, if he’s still being ornery wherever he is.
I can only hope so.
My grandpa was as patriotic as one can expect a surviving WWII veteran to be. He loved his country beyond words. I have been wearing his gold eagle necklace so that part of him — his proud-to-be-an-American soul — stays with me everywhere I go. In his front yard, there’s a memorial to Mount Suribachi and the battle for Iwo Jima with an American flag my brother lowered to half-staff when my grandpa died. My grandpa was so dedicated to country, he asked that we put an American flag on his grave every Memorial and Veterans day.
We will be doing that on Monday.
I will also be paying tribute to my grandpa by going back to a place I love, and I have him to thank. He was the first to take me to the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. From the first time I heard an Indy car scream around the track as a little girl, I was hooked. I remember we parked at his friend’s house and made the trek with all the other race fans toward the track on that exciting Sunday morning.
There really is nothing like the Indy 500.
I especially remember the race he took me to in 1987. I had just turned 15, and I’m going to guess I probably got a sunburn. That was the year Tony Bettenhausen lost a wheel in turn three and it went over the catch fence into the stands, killing a spectator. We knew there had been an accident in the stands, but we didn’t know until after the race that someone had died. I remember that saddened my grandpa. As a life-long first responder and firefighter, he never liked to hear about accidents or fatalities.
I get my sensitivity from him.
I have spent many wonderful days at the track, from attending Carburetion Day — better known as Carb Day — the Friday before the race, to going to practice days and Bump Days. Outside of the races I attended with my grandpa, one of my favorite memories is going to the race with friends from Purdue. One of my friend’s dads owned a racing team that included his rookie son and two-time winner of the Indy 500 Arie Luyendyk, whom I met. We had a steak dinner in the VIP tent before the race, and then watched it from the racing team’s suite.
It’s good to have friends in high places at the race.
Growing up in the 70s and 80s in Indy, I’ve always considered the entire month of May a dedication to the Indianapolis 500. I once ran/walked in the Mini Marathon, the half-marathon that kicks of the race party in Indy, and I lost my toe nails.
Not to mention my enjoyment of running.
My best Carb Day memory involves my best friend driving her car into a sand trap when we were in college. We were parked on the golf course there — not sure if they still direct people there after that happened — and she hit this hill and ended up with her front end in the beach. We sat on the hill, which she practically jumped, and watched the tow truck take away her car.
Then we called my boyfriend and begged him for a ride to the impound.
I have so many fond and fantastic memories of the track, and that all started with a love of Indy that my grandpa instilled in me. I’ll always remember his passion for cars, racing and otherwise. I’ll always have a thing for fast cars myself. This year, when I revisit my favorite place on Earth, I’ll make sure to grab the gold eagle on his chain and make a wish to see him again. Because I know he’s out there somewhere.
Watching the Indy 500.
— April E. Clark can’t wait to hear the words “Lady and gentleman, start your engine. She just wishes it was “Ladies … .” She can be reached at email@example.com.
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