The Paradox of Memorial Day

The Paradox of Memorial Day

Good morning. One hundred and one years ago, the American ambassador to France, Hugh Wallace, invited President Woodrow Wilson to speak at a Memorial Day ceremony near Paris, to honor American doughboys killed during World War I. The president had been in France for months attending to the peace process and was in ill health, a victim of the flu epidemic that had begun to roil the world the previous year. Still, he rallied:

Mr. Ambassador, ladies and gentlemen, fellow countrymen: No one with a heart in his breast, no American, no lover of humanity, can stand in the presence of these graves without the most profound emotion. These men who lie here are men of unique breed. Their like has not been seen since the far days of the Crusades. Never before have men crossed the seas to a foreign land to fight for a cause which they did not pretend was peculiarly their own, but knew was the cause of humanity and of mankind. And when they came, they found fit comrades for their courage and their devotion. They found armies of liberty already in the field — men who, though they had gone through three years of fiery trial, seemed only to be just discovering, not for a moment losing, the high temper of the great affair, men seasoned in the bloody service of liberty. Joining hands with these, the men of America gave that greatest of all gifts, the gift of life and the gift of spirit.

That “bloody service of liberty” is what bears thinking about today, hunkered down in our homes, peeking outside them warily, hoping that we might eat outside in recognition of this holiday that, even with its mournful hue, also welcomes us to summer and what used to be its freedoms.

Take some time to consider that, then cook. I don’t know if salt-and-pepper beef ribs (above) can be in the cards for you today, with barbecue sauce, cornbread, lemony potato salad, grilled broccoli. You might make some Mexican hot dogs instead, eat them on a fire escape, a stoop, a deck, on the same chair and at the same table you use for work or to seek unemployment benefits, for school, for video calls with the grandchildren, your parents, your ex. They recall Los Angeles, late at night, the smell of bacon in the warm, humid air.

You could make chicken salad, serve it in lettuce cups, pretend you’re eating it on a yacht club dock (as if they’d let us!), or prepare indoor s’mores after whatever you have for dinner, pretend you’re camping in the Big South Fork.

You could make burgers just as if you were cooking them on a park grill at the People’s Beach at Jacob Riis, in Rockaway in Queens, or at a family reunion in the yard of an uncle’s house in Oakland. (Here’s a veggie burger for those who have left meat behind.) And to go with, a taste of freedom: guacamole with peas.

Make what brings you happiness. Many thousands more recipes are waiting for you on NYT Cooking. A lot more of them than usual are free to browse even if you aren’t a subscriber to our site and apps. Please think about subscribing, though. Doing so allows our work to continue.

Finally, here’s Edward White in The Paris Review writing about the chef James Hemings, who was Thomas Jefferson’s brother-in-law and enslaved by him. Do read that, and I’ll be back on Wednesday.

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