Memorial Day serves in my mind as the unofficial start of the summer, Independence Day the middle, and Labor Day the end. I am aware that this timeframe has inaccuracies, but this engrained set of time landmarks can’t be changed in my mind. And I don’t think I am alone.

The popular agreement of Memorial Day being summer’s kick-off celebration brings with it criticism that too many people think of the holiday as an excuse to party or a day off instead of an opportunity to observe its true meaning.

Memorial Day is intended to be a day of remembrance for the sacrifice military personnel who died in service to their country. Some people more broadly recognize the contributions of service in the armed forces on this day, which seems appropriate, too, as they have lost comrades and were willing to sacrifice for the country.

My firm association of Memorial Day launching summer does surprise me a little as I don’t ever remember this weekend being associated with anything like vacation or party-like in my childhood. I have countless memories of gathering with a small crowd of community members at the local cemetery to watch the high school band play, see the VFW members present the colors, students leading the pledge of allegiance, speakers with words of remembrance, a prayer by local clergy and the chills of 21-gun salutes followed by taps for a somber ending.

Memorial Day never felt like a celebration, but it also never really a time of mourning for me. Beyond the rituals of the ceremonies, I remember appropriately somber reflection on what it must be like for families who lost a loved one and whether or not I could willingly sacrifice my life for my country. I also remember anticipation to go to an event where I could visit with family members and friends from the community.

Important parts of my character and values were being formed by attending those events. I was learning to take pride in my country, to feel and express gratitude for those who serve, to enjoy community, to feel empathy for those who have lost, and to think about how I could serve in my life.

Another thing I remember is that there weren’t a lot of families or kids at the ceremonies. I am not sure if this is because other families where traveling or maybe some thought it too mature for children. I would guess that there are less families attending now than ever and that makes me sad.

Memorial Day helped instill in me the patriotic ideals of our country: freedom, service and sacrifice. It built a sense of community and challenged me to think about how I could continue to contribute to that community.

Some reading this will have attended Memorial Day ceremonies. Thank you for attending and taking time to remember, and build our communities.

For others thoughts of military service may only have come from watching the latest “Top Gun” movie. You weren’t alone, it was a great movie. However, I would challenge you to make a little time to remember the sacrifices of others and to think about how you can serve your community in the future. And don’t forget to take your kids, they will remember the time with you and the lessons for the rest of their lives.