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TALKING TO MYSELF: 27 May 2013 I like Memorial Day. Gentle and simple, born of forgiveness after the ugliness of the Civil War, it’s the quiet patriotic holiday, different than our boisterous Fourth of July or the drum beating Veterans Day. For many, it’s become only the first holiday weekend of the summer. And that’s okay, I think. Americans work hard and need a little time off to play. For others, it’s a time to remember all loved ones who have died, morphing into what my grandparents here in the rural south called “Decoration Day,” a time for visiting and cleaning graves and for spontaneous reunions. That’s a good ritual and one that I personally hold close. For others, it means graduations and new beginnings, and those are good too. But I cling to that original notion of a day of forgiveness, of “old women and children strewing flowers on both friend and foe.”
Here is a brief history of Memorial Day, an excerpt from my essay of the same name, included in Butter in the Morning:
. . . On May 5, 1868, three years after the Civil War ended, the first “Decoration Day” observance was held in Arlington National Cemetery on the veranda of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s family home, Arlington. Union General and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant presided. The U. S. Veterans Department’s website says, “After speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and members of the GAR made their way through the cemetery, strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns.”
Two years earlier, on April 25, 1866, a group of women in Columbus, Mississippi, had gone to the cemetery where the many Confederate soldiers who died in the Battle of Shiloh were buried. They went with flowers to decorate the Confederate graves, but were so moved by the nearby neglected graves of the fallen Union soldiers, they decorated those, too. I think that is a beautiful story, even more impressive than the later ceremonial one at Arlington, because it surely must have been spontaneous and genuine, and was offered up by women who knew the harshness and divisiveness of the Civil War firsthand.
If we must have wars, as it seems we are doomed to endure until the end of time, let us then continue to have Marshall Plans in peacetime, and old women and children strewing flowers on both friend and foe.
©Georgia Green Stamper 2013