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From this Perch column: Blue plus red = purple

We may consider ourselves a "deeply divided country" but it's unlikely we feel divided when we gather for the solemn act of memorializing a life.

And our country's deep differences can quickly disappear at something like a Memorial Day service sponsored by a local American Legion post.

It seems normal today for our 50 states to be separated by labels like "red" and "blue" but at a Memorial Day service the color is more like purple.

This version of purple has nothing to do with the Minnesota Vikings. It's the color you get when you blend red and blue.

Purple: a preferred politically-peaceful palette.

At a Memorial Day service, with music and heartfelt speeches, life slows down. And with this slowing down, an easily-distracted observer tends to notice little things.

Like the elderly fellow ("elderly" defined as someone senior to me) who got dehydrated in the 90-degree heat during this year's service at Greenwood Cemetery. He had walked away from the ceremony just far enough to reach some shade, and there he sat, leaning up against a tree.

Two locals, Fred and Yvonne Benson, noticed this and walked over to the man to make sure he was OK. They remained there and conversed quietly with him until he had regained his energy and was up and walking again.

And then there were the two small kids who sat down squarely on top of the lawn-level grave markers for Carl Delander (1892-1959) and Esther Delander (1894-1958).

It made perfect sense to those kids to sit where they did, but their dad gently and calmly picked each one up and deposited them on the grass a few feet behind the Delander markers.

I could imagine that Mr. and Mrs. Delander might have been amused by those kids sitting on their markers. But in this culture we go out of our way to avoid stepping on or over a grave. I believe this is based on respect for the dead, although there may also be an element of superstition (bad luck).

I recall showing my father's grave marker to one of my children years ago. He had died at the age of 53, and his grandchildren never knew him. I explained to my very young child: "Grandpa is buried right there."

Solemn silence, and then this: "Which end is his head at?"

Back to that Memorial Day service. Until recently I rarely looked back on my military service with a sense of pride. My time came when I was compelled to serve during the Vietnam era, and I was strongly opposed to our country's involvement in that war.

As did other young men of my generation, I faced a draft and after doing all that I could to dodge that draft, I eventually ran out of dodging-room and ended up serving.

One of my final draft-dodges was to sign up for ROTC while in law school, thus giving me a couple more years of breathing room.

War protests were part of the deal on college campuses back then. I recall marching in military drills in the morning and anti-war protests in the afternoon — changing clothes in between, of course.

It was a complicated time.

Anyway, the fact that I eventually succumbed to the draft and agreed to serve during a war I opposed has never struck me as a boast-worthy thing.

But these days I'm noticing a somewhat different experience. I feel a sense of pride in knowing that I served my country in a time of need, despite the circumstances. I guess perspective tends to change as the years accumulate.

Toward the end of this year's Memorial Day service, the Legion Commander asked all veterans to stand and salute, and I found myself doing just that for the first time in over 40 years.

OK, I had tears in my eyes — but I had put sunscreen on and I think that caused the tears.

Yeah, that's it.

But damn, some funny things can happen with that color purple.