Memorial Day

When I was growing up, every Memorial Day most of the people in my hometown went to the cemetary to put flowers on their departed friends and family graves. Memorial Day was originally enacted as a national day to honor our fallen war dead (previously known as Decoration Day, to honor those who died in the U.S. Civil War).

My town seemed to have misread the memo. Everyone decorated all their relatives and friends' graves, no matter when or from what causes they had passed on. War hero graves and the graves of veterans got little American flags along with the flowers, or poppies from the older folks. Other graves got mums and roses, lilies and daisies or bouquets of the favorite flowers of the deceased. The cemeteries were blanketed in flowers.

I grew up in a very conservative western state, which makes the liberal explosion of flowers even more mystifying. I don't know how these people, some of whom once walked out on one of my high school choir concerts because we sang a medley of songs by "that commie hippie" (known as John Lennon to most of you), decided en masse that Memorial Day wasn't big enough. But they did, and the day became a day of solemn remembrance for all our departed. Most of us never set foot in the cemetery any other day of the year, except for the kids who risked going straight to hell for playing baseball on the huge section of immaculately mowed grass reserved for future graves. On Memorial Day, we were rounded up and taken out to the cometary to visit graves. It always felt like church to me.

Occasionally an outsider would move in and complain about this catholic application of Memorial Day tribute. One year it was a teacher. We were instructed to go home and inform our parents that Memorial Day was for war heroes, not random dead relatives. Like the teacher who had us sing commie hippie music, that teacher was not invited to return the following year. My mother, my foster mother, my friends' mothers all said the same thing: "This is what we do. We remember our dead. It doesn't matter how they got that way. What matters is that we remember them." Occasionally we would go to the grave of someone we didn't know at all, because, our mothers said, they remembered the people who had remembered those graves, but the rememberers themselves had passed on. They would lay flowers and remember someone by proxy in honor of those who had remembered them before.

And so this is my hometown's personal Day of the Dead. If you have deceased loved ones, and especially if they fell in war, they remember them today for you. I will remember too.

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