I wonder how many of you say that without realizing the last Monday in May is really not about the unofficial start of summer?
NOTE: Okay, I’ll grant you that June, July, and August are pretty cold in the Southern Hemisphere, which sounds like a crappy deal for our friends down under. Until you stop to consider they also don’t have Joe Biden and Donald Trump.
NOTE FOLLOWING A NOTE: That last sentence is sure to tick off both sides of the aisle. You’re welcome.
On the other hand, Australia does have Olivia Newton-John.
Lost among the hoopla of Bud Light-free backyard barbecues, fireworks (for those looking to get a jump on Independence Day), trips to Jersey beaches (to watch the annual washing ashore of mob hits), and tropical storms (in Florida) is the true purpose behind Memorial Day.
Originally called Decoration Day, recognition of those who gave their lives in the recent Civil War was officially proclaimed on May 5th, 1868, by General John Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic (weren’t they all full of themselves?). Planned for May 30th, it drew former foes together to plant flowers and otherwise spruce up graves of war dead from North and South alike at Arlington National Cemetery.
NOTE: Which, incidentally, was on the site of Robert E. Lee’s home.
To be sure, women in the South were also “decorating” gravesites of their dead from the “Great Cause,” when they weren’t saying “Bless your heart” or “Kiss my grits.” In fact, some sources state that those practices even predated the end of the war. What’s more, some states in Dixie even had their own Decoration Days, mostly in May.
NOTE: For my non-American friends (and products of the Mississippi school system), the American Civil War (or “War of Northern Aggression”-sheesh, those people can really hold a grudge. At least they weren’t vindictive pricks, though.) took place between 1861 and 1865 between the “North” and the “South.” I could bore you with the whys, whens, and whats about one of our most horrific conflicts (this side of a San Francisco CVS), but I won’t (no sense cracking a book). Let’s just put it this way: a lot of people died and the blue team won. Oh, and it wasn’t technically a “civil” war. Because, let’s face it, there’s nothing civil about getting your head blown off by a cannon ball.
Decoration Day remained an observance of Civil War dead up until after the First World War. Following one of history’s most idiotic conflicts (which didn’t end up being the “war to end all wars” after all. Suckers.), it was decided that May 30th would be set aside to honor all American war dead.
NOTE: And those who lost their lives during peacetime in service to their country.
The name, however, stuck until it officially changed to Memorial Day in 1967. No matter what it was called, though, Americans throughout the nation took time out to honor those who had fallen.
What seemed to many to be a civic duty began to fade after Congress passed the Holiday Act of 1971. An effort to consolidate some federal holidays into three-day weekends, it shifted Memorial Day to the last Monday in May. The inexorable transformation from solemn tribute to summertime bacchanal had begun.
I try my best not to be a crank about the avalanche of car commercials, barbecue tips shows, or “ABBA to ZZ Top-The Memorial Countdown of the 500 Most Popular Hits of the 70s, 80s, 90s, and Whatever the Frik We Call the First Decade of the 21st Century!” It’s hard not to get caught up in the hype of a country poised at the brink of gloriously warm weather (sorry, Aussies) and summer reruns. Hey, I like to walk around with my shirt off and scare wildlife like any other middle-aged guy.
Still, I remember when Memorial Day used to be about the Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine, and Coast Guardsman. Parades, wreath-layings, air shows, flag-raisings: those were what I remember.
But, if I think back really hard (you could take that dirty), I also remember my shirtless father (I’m still in therapy) incinerating hot dogs from Shop Rite on the grill while listening to Best of the Ventures on his 8-Track player. All while we played fetch with our dog-using my little brother’s bathing suit. With my little brother still in it.
When we weren’t playing catch with the Lawn Darts, that is.
|"Those damn kids and their lawn dar....ooh. Hot dogs."|
Ahhhhh, good times.
So, when I get up tomorrow morning, I’m going to fly my flag before heading off to see the Memorial Day parade. I’ll place my hand over my heart when the national anthem is played at the wreath-laying. And hang on to every word spoken by a veteran from either the American Legion or the VFW.
It is then when I’ll remember.
Then, I’ll go home to see if I can cook a hot dog better than my dad.
Now that I think of it, I guess the saying fits:
Happy Memorial Day!
Still, never forget it should also be Blessed Memorial Day.
Two things can be true at the same time.