For as long as I can remember, Memorial Day has meant going to the cemetery.
On the first warm, sunny Saturday each May, my mother would load geraniums and watering cans in the trunk, put all of her children in the car and drive to St. Bridget's cemetery in DeGraff. It didn't matter if you thought you had better things to do, when Mom said it was time to go take care of the graves you were wise to jump in the car.
In addition to planting red geraniums on relative's graves, we clipped grass, pulled weeds and cleaned headstones. The whole process took about an hour, depending on who was in charge of the clippers.
Our reward was a picnic lunch, eaten in the corner of the
cemetery near the evergreen trees. Our entertainment was a succession of stories about the hardships of the Depression, life during World War II and the courtship of our parents.
Until I was 12 or so, Memorial Day itself was spent in Kerkhoven, attending the annual service at Hillside Cemetery. It was there that I first heard and witnessed a 21-gun salute. When the names of the deceased veterans were read, I learned that my grandfather was a soldier in World War I. And looking out over the graves that covered that hillside,
I was impressed by the site of the flags, the flowers and the sun shining on
the marble markers.<
When I was in high school, Memorial Day meant putting on a hot, itchy wool band uniform and playing all of the verses to The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Funny how now I can only remember the first verse. I also watched each year as flowers were given to the Gold Star mothers and wives, and wondered what would we do when these ladies died and there were no more Gold Star mothers.
Memorial Day was originally dedicated to the soldiers who died in the Civil War. It was called Decoration Day because people went to cemeteries and put flowers on graves.
Memorial Day will be observed in Morris with flags waving, patriotic songs, trumpets and speeches. It will be different this year, with a new Gold Star family and many other families holding their breath, waiting for their soldiers to come home safely.
Whether you choose to participate in these public commemorations or not, the White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance asks all Americans to observe the National Moment of Remembrance. On Memorial Day, Monday, May 30 at 3 p.m., you're asked to stop what you're doing and observe a moment of silence. The moment does not replace traditional Memorial Day observances. Rather, it is intended to serve as a simple, yet powerful reminder of the real reason we observe Memorial Day -- to
honor those who died in service to our nation.