The U.S. Congress did us no favor it seems to me, when in its 1971 wisdom it passed the “Holiday Act”, assigning Monday as the established day for national days of commemoration and celebration; an idea pushed by labor unions and other lobbying groups looking for more “three-day-paid” holidays, deciding for us in the process that established traditions and generational ideals mattered for little. One of the inevitable consequences, was the erosion of long-held cultural values and a sense of lost continuity in cherished and familiar acts of community.
Of all national celebrations, what has come to be known as “Memorial Day” is unique, in that it came from The People; it was “invented” simultaneously by citizens – mostly women – in many parts of a nation recently decimated by Civil War, and the untimely death of nearly 750,000 of our own people. By the end of 1865, women in Charleston, South Carolina, Richmond, Virginia, Waterloo, New York and dozens of other towns, small and large were seeking ways to “remember” those they had lost. Known at first as “Decoration Day” and observed every May 30th, it was a time when entire families visited and tended cemeteries and honored their revered dead. Ironically, my earliest memory of our family’s tradition is of a parade in which white-bearded veterans of the Civil War (members of The Grand Army of the Republic), still rode.
IMPORTANT THINGS ARE WRITTEN HERE
As autumn filled a cool bright day,
And breezes blew old cares away,
Our ambling footsteps somehow led,
To places often glimpsed with dread:
A country graveyard – gate askew,
Its’ grassy slopes still bright with dew,
Seemed just the place to spend some hours,
With old stone walls and stray fall flowers.
At first we thought of just such things:
The charm that sweet nostalgia brings;
The quiet pleasures of being afield . . .
Drinking in all that October can yield.
And then. . . we began to read what was said,
By those who had come here to honor their dead.
On limestone tablet and granite bier,
Important things were written here.
Between the lines of chiseled script,
A glimpse of timeless sentiment slipped.
We saw the enduring nature of love;
A faith that our loved ones await us above.
We read of great loyalty, of loneliness deep;
Of the void that is left by those who sleep.
On lichen-splashed monuments centuries old,
A record of human devotion is told.
Wind-rippled flags add a touch of pride,
And a love of country that time cannot hide.
In muffled cadence the heroes march,
To drums whose beat the centuries arch;
And those they loved who homeward had waited,
Now lie at their side as bonds had fated.
Their story is written in more than mere stone;
It lives on today in our own flesh and bone.
As the circling sun defined our day,
And our random hours measured away,
The rows of canted stones had spoken,
In ways that seemed much more than token.
Our minds were filled with a need to recall,
The lessons we’d learned on a walk in the fall:
On limestone tablet and granite bier. . .
Important things are written here.
© Al Cooper
Photo by Al Cooper