Although Va., Ga. Pa, to name a few, always claimed to be the first States to host the first Memorial Day in 1966, Lyndon B. Johnson made it official by declaring that the very first Memorial Day was held May 5,1866 in Waterloo, New York. The day was called Decorations Day and originally intended to honor the Civil War Dead. By 1868 this day was fairly well spread across the established States as Decoration Day and held on the last Monday of May which was May 30, 1868. It was declared as a day to decorate the graves by layiing on the flowers or decorations of choice, on the graves of the dead, of all the Soldiers who fought in the Civil War and whose graves were scattered across our Great Nation. It would not be until 1971 that it would be declared an official Holiday to honor all War Dead.
Although it was and is intended to honor all who fought for the Freedom of us all , long ago it was began in all the cemeteries that our loved ones who made the sacrifices for us to be here would also be honored. Many of the small towns across America will hold a day to take up the artificial flowers that have been left out and then return them to the graves the following years so that those who do not have family will have flowers on their graves as well. Other cemeteries will just leave them out year around if they are in a vase that does not interfer with the mowing of the grass.
Otherwise the flowers will be tossed away if the people are unable to come back and pick them up. Many times those of us that make our own or have them made will spend much more for the silk arrangements than what fresh flowers that die in a couple days will cost.
I began my annual trek to the graves 38 years ago. I was the only one of my direct family in the State at the time and even though my Mother was always against the decorating of graves it was always the day we would meet our grandparents in town and go spend two weeks with them at their place. It was either my twin and I or my older brother and sisters two week vacation when we were small. Whoever did not get to spend Memorial Day then would get to spend 2 Weeks later in the summer. Our grandparents then would give up a month of their summer time for the two seperate groups.
Because it was such a special Day for Him it also became special to me. I would load up my small babies and year after year we would make the trip to set out the flowers and they would go explore while I had a special memory and said a prayer at all the seperate graves.
To me Memorial Day is a way to give back to those that left their Mother Land and fought against all the hardships it took for all of us to be given the gift of freedom in a Democracy as well as the generations that followed. No one generation before us, does not sacrifice so that we can have the gift of life. I do understand that it is especially the soldiers that we honor first on this special Day but the rest of the family members are equally important to me.
As I stop at the graves of my grandparents I remember the patience shown as Grand Dad would get out the huge white Clysdale work horses so that we could go horse back riding. Their backs were so broad that it was like doing the splits and as we aged we realized just how slow they were. He would take us fishing after we had spent the day collecting snails or exploring the junk pile. One year we found an old shoe polish bottle and decided to paint his wash house. Since they were our grand parents we didn’t even get in trouble for doing so.
At my great aunt’s grave I remember how she went from having no children to being good enough to give up a week or so of her time every so often to watch 6 kids when she wouldn’t have a clue of what to do. It would always be a time of laughter for we kids as we knew how frustrated she would get and as children we would take advantage of it. We will never forget how she put a dress on our brother, who was all boy, since she could not find pajamas for him to sleep in. He threw quite a fit to say the least. More times than not, when I stop at her grave I ask for her forgiveness even yet today.
Her late in life husband would hold us spell bound when we were small with all his stories of how when he was a child he would herd turtles all the way across Missouri. Of course as we got older, we realized that he was just a harmless old story teller. How I wish now that I would remembered his jack rabbit stories and all the rest of them that use to drive grown ups nuts.
There are my other grandparents on my father’s side where I remember my grandmother who would let my sister and I play with her canes. Many times we would try to grab them before she had officially sat down and she would always have to say to us “wait wait let me sit down.” I now have a grandson that likes to play with my cane and I love it that he does. These are just a few of the family members that I have honored over the years and will give up this year because of the insistence of persons in my life that have a resentment that I honor their memories.
The vandalized grave each year of my Father’s grave will continue being a place that I take flowers, prayers and memories and to pay my respects regardless of how many times they choose to vandalize it. I will come back and back and back again and never fail to give thanks for the wonderfully positive attitude that I inherited from him.
I have so many memories and so many wonderful thoughts of him that always brings a smile to my face and that is how I will always remember him. The great big grin with his short teeth but always a good soul behind the laughter. I never got to do anything for him before he died. What I wouldn’t give to have had the opportunity to do so.
To those of you who have the attitude why do it, they won’t know it, they are dead. I know it is hard for you to understand it, but I do it because to me the memories of all of them bring back the joy of the part of their lives that they shared with me and it is the least that I can do. Why would anyone deny themselves, once a year, this moment of solitude and the time to return to the area of where a loved one lived, to have a private moment to say a prayer and to share a memory, and to keep just a small part of them alive in that one single moment, is beyond me. Like a Catholic Priest once said, “there is nothing deader than a priest who dies.” These are family members that once a year have lived on in a short memory through my private moments spent with them. God Bless them all this Memorial Day.
To the persons that insist on removing the flowers each year I say, I’ve known all along who you are, and you may be able to steal the flowers but you will never be able to take the memories. I hope after you are gone, and I make the journey to your grave, your stealing the flowers, isn’t the only memory that I have of you. If it is , it will be a damn short stop won’t it?:)