This is an opinion column.
Jhis last Monday was Memorial Day. Memorial Day has become the unofficial start of summer. In reality, holidays are much more than that. It’s a special time when we stop to remember and honor those who have fallen in battle.
It is a time when we salute those who gave their lives for our national freedom. Memorial Day was originally called Decorating Day. The day of decoration dates back to 1868.
James Garfield, an Ohio Representative and former Civil War general in the Union Army, addresses a crowd of more than 5,000 at Arlington National Cemetery, May 30, 1868.
In his address, he said, “Here, our children’s children will come to pay a grateful tribute. For this, we met today. Sure, Garfield became President of the United States, but only served 6 months before he was shot and died several months later. Ironically, he was not buried in Arlington.
After Garfield’s speech on that day in May 1868, those who had gathered walked through the newly formed cemetery to visit the graves of their relatives and friends who had been buried there. This original gathering took place only three years after the end of the civil war.
Most of those buried in Arlington were then Union soldiers. Eventually, Decorating Day became known as Memorial Day. It has become a time to honor all fallen Americans, and not just Union soldiers, and not just those from the Civil War.
Where I grew up, Decoration Day meant something a little different. We celebrated Memorial Day and we honored all the fallen soldiers that day, but Decoration Day was when we decorated the family graves. It can fall on any Sunday, but usually during the month of May and even in the first part of June. As an adult, I’ve lived in various parts of the Southeast and noticed that this seems to be a practice mostly done in northeast Alabama and northwest Georgia. Some family members went to the cemetery on Saturday to clean the graves. Sometimes this involved cleaning out weeds and adding a fresh layer of white sand or chipped marble rocks. Of course, new flowers were then added. Then on Sunday, everyone came to the church where the cemeteries were. We worshiped together, then went outside and gathered around long cement slab tables with edges rough enough to tear off a finger. The preachers didn’t preach that long that day, even though they had a full house, because the food was getting cold. I suspect the preachers were also thinking about all that fried chicken, baked beans, and deviled eggs. After eating so much we had to go to confession, we gathered inside, with portable funeral home fans. Some sang hymns and others just listened, while old men and young children took a nap after lunch. The singing was so loud that no one noticed the snoring!
May we never forget those who came before us. Especially those who paid a price for us.
Bill King is an author, musician and native of Rainsville.