Back in the last century (when I was just a kid), even tho the holiday was listed on the calendar as Memorial Day, my elder relatives called it “Decoration Day”. They planned for days and picked their flowers the night before to decorate their relatives’ graves.
We always had a parade early in the morning on Memorial Day. Usually kids on their bicycles were first. We all used crepe paper and whatever else we could scrounge up to decorate our bikes. If we had younger brothers or sisters, they got pushed in a stroller that was also decorated.
Behind us came cars: the newer the better! Because I grew up in farming country, behind the cars came the farm tractors. I couldn’t tell an old tractor from a new tractor at that time, but I could see how each farmer beamed as his farming implement putt-putted down Main Street!
Bringing up the rear of the parade were the firetrucks. The community was very proud of their firetrucks and volunteer firemen. The parade always ended up at the cemetery where there was a small ceremony, usually a preacher gave a small speech and a very long prayer, or so it seemed to me as a child.
Then all the adults spread across our small rural cemetery to decorate the graves. Although I was drafted to help carry flowers or haul water, I paid little attention to where these graves were. Sometimes my Great Aunts planted flowers around their relatives’ markers. Or weeded around the headstone that may have been overgrown from the year before.
As I became older, the larger towns I lived in didn’t have Memorial Day parades, just a “placing of a wreath” at some square or War Memorial statue. Eventually I forgot the purpose of Memorial Day. It became the unofficial first day of summer, when cabins were opened, boats removed from storage, or lawn mowers dug out of the far recesses of the garage.
After my older relatives and parents died, and I become interested in genealogy, I started looking up the graves of some of my ancestors. I felt a need to decorate their graves, as my Great Aunts had done when I was younger. Unfortunately there are more rules now than there were when I was a child. Or perhaps it’s just because most of the cemeteries around me now are larger. I can’t plant in the ground. And I must follow certain rules, add decorations only during certain months, and remove them before certain months.
In a way, I wax nostalgic over Memorial Day and long for the tricycles and bicycles and lawn mowers and tractors in a small town parade, back when life was simpler. And you could dig a hole and put a live plant beside your relatives’ gravestone.
This week-end I will go out and place flags by my relatives who proudly served our country. And I will “plant” a bunch of plastic flowers by their wives and children not because it’s all they deserve, but it’s all I’m allowed to do.
I hope you have relatives buried near you that you can decorate. And please don’t forget our veterans. After all, that was the original purpose of this holiday, to honor their service to our country.