Monday, May 31, 2010
A New Memorial Day
When I was growing up Memorial Day was May 10th. I didn't know anything about this last Monday in May deal. On May 10th each year, my father and his friends would solemnly memorialize the anniversary of the death of Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson in 1863 and that the same day in 1865, those Yankees captured President Jefferson Davis. All Confederate flags were flown at half mast. It was an occasion in the deep south to memorialize the confederate war dead. You must remember at that time, our "most recent unpleasantness" was less than 100 years ago. And, we were still wary of any one from north of Virginia. That Mason Dixon line might as well have been drawn in the sand.
Now you have to look at it from my perspective, a little girl being brought up in a time (long gone, thank God). These dates and anniversaries were still important to my Daddy and his friends. Now my Aunt Kat and Granny didn't talk about it much. When I asked them about it, they showed me the silver that had been buried in the back yard to save it from Sherman's army and the rocking chair that fell off the back of the wagon loaded down with everything plundered from the home place by those Yankee soldiers. All I knew was they must have been some evil folks.
Of course, like most of us, I grew up, learned the history of that time and that folks north of Virginia don't have two heads, are generally nice, and can be trusted. My attitude is that we all need to learn to get along. I don't have time for petty things like racism and bigotry. And, to my Daddy's credit he came around long before he died. But he was a true historian of the confederate war and I was taught that it was not a "civil war" because we were two independent countries. I never called it "the war of northern aggression", unless I was with some of my Yankee friends and just wanted to irritate them. Of course, the word "War" is pronounced "Waah".
But back to the issue at hand. I was just amazed when I went to college and learned there was another holiday - Memorial day. The one everyone else in the country celebrated - the beginning of summer. And to think, I thought summer started when school got out. How naive I was. I should have known there had to be some "official" way to start summer. Some hallmark moment, one that the supermarkets could tout. So here it was. And ever since then Confederate Memorial day is a thing of the past, just like our most recent unpleasantness.
I tried to explain this to my girls and they were confounded between the humor and the horror of the situation. The horror of the civil rights era, which I am glad they did not have to live through and that they feel should not have been an issue - all men and women are created equal. And, the humor of celebrating a holiday that no longer exists about a war that in their minds is just a chapter in a book. However, I can still see the look in my Granny's eyes as she told the stories her mother, who had lived through the war and all its horrors told her. It was very real. And, I would not take anything for having those memories.
And now I celebrate the beginning of summer with everyone else on the last Monday in May. But each year on May 10th, I think about my Daddy, his family and friends, and more importantly, all those young men on both sides of that line that died between 1861 and 1865 trying to keep a nation together or fight for what they truly believed was right. I hope that their memories are included when we remember all the other brave souls on our Memorial Day who gave their lives doing the same thing - fighting for what they truly believe is right.
A little history here, the first Confederate Memorial day was celebrated in 1866 and was held on different days in the various states of the former confederacy. The union states were inspired by this show of respect by the southerners and started a Decoration Day in memory of their dead. This morphed into what was called Memorial day and was held on May 30. In 1971 Congress enacted a law making Memorial Day a federal holiday for a 3 day weekend and moving the date to the last Monday in May.