Happy Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day! Historically, this holiday was a sign of getting out of school for the summer. As a matter of fact, summer began with Memorial Day and ended with Labor Day. It was a season of picnics, lazy days on the lake, going barefoot in the park, fireworks, parades, and warm temperatures. Oh, and cokes, watermelon, corn on the cob, strawberries, peaches and home-made ice cream… and let us not forget the fresh grown, garden vegetables. It was a time we all looked forward to, each year. Yes, summer was our reward for working hard during the school year, and Memorial Day was the starting of our fun.

Memorial Day was called Decoration Day (changed around 1967) when I was a child. It had a special significance in the South. It was a time to remember relatives who had passed on, by gathering at cemeteries to decorate the graves. Weeds were pulled, shrubs trimmed, stones washed, and flowers planted. There was a religious service and “dinner on the ground,” or pot-luck meal, in which people would spread dishes of food out on tables, covered with cloths, outside on the grass. In my experiences, pot-lunch or picnic dishes were spread out on long boards, held up by saw horses, and the food was really good. It is believed that this practice began before the American Civil War, and thus may reflect the real origin of the memorial day concept.

Originally (before my time), it was a time set aside to honor Civil War soldiers who died during the war. The sheer number of both Union and Confederate dead soldiers, lead to the importance of burial and memorialization, following the war. Women buried the dead and decorated graves all during the war, and would certainly continue the tradition in the following years. WWI and WWII added to the need to honor the men who sacrificed their lives for our country. Later, Memorial Day became an occasion to honor all those who had passed on, regardless of whether in war or peace.

And can we ever forget the red poppies? Inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields,” in 1915, by World War I surgeon Colonel John McCrae, Moina Michael penned: We cherish too, the Poppy red… That grows on fields where valor led,.. It seems to signal to the skies… That blood of heroes never dies. The author (Moina Michael) conceived of an idea to wear red poppies on Memorial Day in honor of those who died serving the nation during war. She sold poppies to friends and co-workers, donating the money to benefit servicemen in need. Later, Madam Guerin from France learned of this new custom while visiting the United States and made artificial red poppies to raise money for war orphaned children and widowed women. The tradition spread to other countries, and in 1922 the VFW became the first veterans’ organization to nationally sell poppies. Their “Buddy” Poppy program of selling artificial poppies made by disabled veterans, started two years later. I always felt so proud, buying and wearing those beautiful, sentimental, red poppies.

Have a safe Memorial Day!

Source: K. P. Guessen