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Mems the Word

This piece was recently published in Sandestin’s Stroll Magazine here in Florida. But I think the holiday is such an important one, I wanted to mark its arrival again. I remember Memorial Day from long ago, before it gave us a long weekend. Back then, it was called Decoration Day and as we shopped on Main Street, we dropped coins in a veteran’s bucket to buy red crepe paper poppies for our shirts.

Obviously, the purpose of the day is to commemorate the veterans who died in service to this country. The internet tells me the first official celebration occurred in Waterloo, New York, in 1866, to honor the Civil War dead, where the patriotic townspeople decorated the veterans’ graves. Soon the custom spread to other towns, and always occurred on May 30, no matter which day of the week.

Why May 30? According to a speech by General James Garfield on May 30, 1868, at Arlington National Cemetery, it was chosen because no Civil War battle happened on that day. In 1968, Congress decreed that the event, by then commonly called Memorial Day, would always occur on the last Monday in May and would be a federal holiday.

Besides proudly wearing Decoration Day poppies on our shirts, I remember our pilgrimage to the grave of my brother, a Korean War causality. It was always a sad day, of course, but important for us to remember him and his sacrifice. As my mother and I approached the graveyard on the south edge of town, local ladies lined the street with homegrown peonies in water-filled buckets. Mother always bought a dozen or so and placed them on my brother’s grave.

Nowadays, we’re never in my hometown on Memorial Day, so we create our own, and decorate the graves of all family members who’ve passed away. It has become the source of good-natured family rivalry as we survivors compete in the “decorating contest.”

First we hit the local Walmart and buy scads of artificial flowers, every color in the rainbow. We spread them out on the backyard picnic table, then each person chooses a grave and sets to work. Contestants include my daughter, my niece, my great niece, my great-great niece, my granddaughter, me and anyone else we can talk into filling a “saddle” to fit atop a headstone.

Decorated Headstone of Robert "Ace" Edwards

Once completed, the creations are judged by whatever hapless husband isn’t afraid to sleep on the couch that night if he doesn’t pick the correct winner. Because of this contest, we’ve managed to turn a serious, sometimes sad event into something fun and creative, while still remembering those who've passed. Leave it to us Old School types!


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