Many communities have ways in which it marks time. Henderson County, Kentucky, is no different.
It starts in the spring with Tri-Fest. People shake off the winter blues by coming down to Main Street for food and friendship. There’s a 5K run/walk, elementary schools compete for the No. 1 slot in races or egg toss relays and people can listen to live bands while their kids take advantage of carnival rides and games.
The heartbeat of the event is in its tradition of coming together as a group to support non-profit agencies through the purchase of edible offerings. And of course, you get to see people you haven’t seen since the previous Tri-Fest.
There’s a familiarity about Tri-Fest in its sights, sounds and even the smells, that reminds you that you’re home.
Roughly a month later, the eyes of the community turn toward Central Park. You see, between going to work, raising children and well, life, the days get away from you.
For me, when I see the semi-trailers, at least two of them, parked along Washington Street and Main Street, I’m reminded of the season. Volunteers meet at the park, mainly from the local VFW, but middle school students and other people have been known to pitch in. They begin unloading the cargo from the semi-trailers and start the process of setting out white in-ground stakes. Rows and rows of them.
Central Park is then transformed from a landscape of green to a brilliant green thanks to the stark white contrasts. It takes a few days, but slowly crosses are raised up. Methodically placed, perfectly plotted, a sea of white crosses spread out over the park like water on sand. Not 10. Not 20. But thousands. More than 5,000. Each represents someone from this area, who while they were living, served their country.
Henderson County is known for this display. It’s always there about two weeks before Memorial Day and stays until the first of June. It’s how we know that spring is waning, school’s almost out and summer is here.
For the weeks the display calls the park its home, people come, find the cross that bears the name of their loved one and then take a few moments there. It’s just what we do.
By the time the annual Memorial Day Ceremony arrives, almost every cross is decorated. And then we gather. Hundreds come to Central Park. We spend an hour together remembering the men and women who have died serving this country in battle. We honor them, and through our own special tributes, we say thank you. I don’t think there are enough words, enough powerful and moving words to adequately describe the atmosphere that embraces us on that day. So many in the park have served either by wearing the uniform or by loving someone who did. It reminds us. It humbles us. It unites us.
We will leave the park that day better than we came.
It will be about six weeks before we gather again. On the banks of the Ohio River the community will come together to witness a massive fireworks display. This time to celebrate the birth of a nation. Our Independence Day.
But on Memorial Day, at the crosses, we remember why we can.