For some reason, perhaps age, I have of late found myself stopping to think about Memorial Day, or Decoration Day. What it is now and what it used to be when I was growing up.
Memorial Day, was first celebrated inAmericato honor the soldiers who died in our Civil War, and later after World War I to commemorate all Americans who die in war.
In my youth, it was a time when we, the family—the whole family, not just my Mom and Dad, I mean the whole damned bunch, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, the works, got together Memorial Day morning and went out to decorated the graves of those that had passed on. We took spring flowers and evergreen boughs, not to one but several different cemeteries in and around my hometown,Lewiston,Idaho, and in ‘group’ visited and decorated each grave of our deceased ancestry. It was truly a time of remembering for some, and a time of revelation and getting acquainted for the youngsters, as the elders shared their remembrance of Grandma Dyer or Uncle Arthur, Cousin Abner or Aunt Bernice. These introductions seemed to familiarize we children with relatives passed on years before our birth. I loved those stories that had been handed down and I’m sure embellished to project a larger than life image of a bygone relative. It some how bound us all together, grounded us. Even though we had different names, lived in different eras, were of mixed blood, we were ‘Family’ we were part of something and those long gone folks were a part of us, living if only in memory, through us. And that fact was strengthened later that day when we all gathered at the park for the family picnic.
Everyone brought something, salads, pies, fried chicken and cake. We played softball and there was pop for the kids and beer for the adults. And later, when the sun was setting, a band played in the park and there were fireworks. And when it was all over, when we all headed our different ways, one thing carried over—the knowledge of who we were, that you weren’t alone, you were part of a family.
Now, Memorial Day seems to be more about the start of summer or a long weekend. So many of us have moved away from our hometowns, or our hometowns have shrunk or just disappeared. We don’t go to the cemetery to visit family graves, they are to far away or we’re to busy to make the trip. I have relatives strung all over the place, living and dead, folks I’m lucky to see once every couple of years—some I’ve never met, and maybe never will. I have grandchildren who will someday have grandchildren that won’t know about Grandma Dyer or Uncle Arthur and never will… and I feel bad about that. Family is important and it seems to me, our life style is pulling the family further and further apart. It’s not so bad for folks like me, who lived in a time when family was more important. It’s the kids I worry about, the ones that need to know they are part of something, something important, a family they belong to, that belongs to them… I’m afraid they never will.