Author B.J. Betts here.
The trees in my yard have started to leaf out and my first flowers of spring have started to bloom. Ahh, spring. Finally, I thought this past winter would hang on forever as many of us across the country did.
But with the leafing out of trees and the fresh, sweet scent of new spring flowers brings to mind the beginning of summer holidays. Memorial Day will soon be upon us,
Memorial Day, a day set aside to honor and remember those men and woman who served in the armed forces and fought and died protecting these United States. Memorial Day, a holiday steeped richly in controversy as to when and where it began.
Some say the first freed slaves began the tradition of honoring the dead by dancing, singing and strewing flowers along the roadside where soldiers died. John A Logan dedicated May 30th 1866 as the day to celebrate and remember the confederate soldiers who died during the Civil War. But in 1868 war widows gathered at Arlington National Cemetery to lay flowers and flags on each soldiers grave whether the soldier be from the north or the south. Although they were not presidents yet, both Ulysses S. Grant and James A. Garfield were in attendance that day to honor the fallen soldiers.
Although Memorial Day was celebrated on different days throughout the country, on May 5, 1866 Waterloo, New York was officially named the birthplace of the Memorial Day holiday. On that day business were closed and all work stopped so everyone could enjoy the day and play tribute to the fallen soldiers.
In 1971 it was recognized as an official federal holiday to be celebrated on the last Monday in May. Some say the date had more to do with all of the flowers being in bloom than anything else as to why they set that day. To most of us it is the official day of the beginning of summer.
My earliest memories of the Memorial Day holiday were ones I spent with my Grandma , Desi Fronk. Only she didn’t call it Memorial Day, she called it Decoration Day. We’d spend the morning walking through her yard and clipping clusters of freshly bloomed, purply lilacs. Their sweet scent would fill the air. As we walked along she’d tell me stories about each family member who had passed on. Who they were, how they were related to me and so on. At last we would come to her newly bloomed peony bushes, only grandma never called them peonies but pennies-- to this day when I hear them called that I think of Grandma Fronk.
By noon we’d pile into the car for trip to the cemetery where most of our family was buried. We’d walk solemnly among the graves setting the flowers we’d picked and put into pretty vases on each grave. Grandpa and my uncles would place a small flag on those who had served in the military. I’d watch as Grandma would take a hanky out of her pocket and wipe away a single tear that trickled down her cheek as she stood over a beloved family member’s grave.
After the graves were seen to it was time to eat. By then everyone who was coming had arrived at Fairmont Park. Picnic tables were full of culinary delights from each family. Grandma’s fried chicken, momma’s baked beans and potato salad were sure to please. The older folks sat and talked about their younger days and the state of the country, new momma’s sat and talked about their new babies, my daddy and uncles played horseshoes, while my cousins, sisters and brother sat and ate water melon and spit the seeds at each other. At the days end after an afternoon of playing baseball and You’re It, I’d crawl into the back seat of daddy’s car, my tummy full of Grandma’s cherry pie and Aunt Sharon’s chocolate cake.
Since I’m grown with a family of my own and am now a grandmother, I’ve tried to keep Grandma Fronk’s traditions alive… but with my children moving away and everyone working it hasn’t been an easy task. But I try as best I can to tell my grandkids the stories of those who have gone before us. It’s like our lives are all a small piece of fabric in a patch work quilt… with each of our lives adding its own color and flavor to the quilt.
In my own way, my story Echoes in the Night, a story about two brothers who are drafted to go and fight in Vietnam, but only one returns, and Saigon Moon, a story about a young Marine who leaves his fiancé and small Iowa town behind to go and serve his country in Vietnam, are my tributes to our soldiers who fought and died for their country. Both books will be available this coming July and August.
Would any of you like to share a memory of a special loved one who has passed on or how you spend Memorial Day? I’d love to hear from you.