Sunday, May 24, 2009

Memorial Day

This weekend officially starts summer. I've been reading different laments about how the meaning of Memorial Day has become forgotten, and that it no longer is a day to honor our fallen military heroes. Considering that I am in my 50's, and can remember as a tot going to the cemetary with my grandparents to put peonies on the graves of our ancestors (non-military), I suspect that this date has undergone some transformation of meaning. It seems to me that the date has become more visibly in honor of military sacrifice as time goes by.
My grandparents spoke of this weekend as always being the one that started summer. Deceased relatives were always honored with flowers and decorations, but as it turns out this day started after the Civil War. (More history) It had little to no significance to *my*relatives in a military/national sense - at least in my memory.
The stories I heard as a child reflected how it was unthinkable and disrespectful beyond imagination to neglect the visitation of graves. Families packed a picnic lunch, gathered flowers for decoration (at one point, the day was called Decoration Day), and made the rounds of cemetaries before ending in a park type setting for a picnic and perhaps some games. As my grandparents passed, my mother took on the job of decorating the graves of "her people" on special days. It was always important to have it finished before other relatives got there to decorate other nearby graves, and saw that it hadn't been done yet.

I always tried to imagine my grandmother's family (of which she was the youngest of 17) packing everyone up and traipsing around their part of the world. There were probably parasols and cellulose collars. Certainly the women all wore gloves and hats, and there would have been hats and vests, and/or suspenders on all the men. What a sight that must have been. It is right up there with the image I carry from her stories about how her father would rent a "barge" for them to take out on the Susquehanna river to fish for shad and eels in the summer.
I grew up during the Viet Nam Conflict. Always was and probably always will be a peacenik. That does not mean that I do not honor and thank the men and women who have sacrificed for me and the country I love. That means that I believe we need to find ways to live together without sending our young people to fight and die. To me, patriotism is not synonymous with war, yet I see that being the case so often.

Imagine
John Lennon

Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

(painting is Lady Picking Peonies, by William Verplanck Birney)

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