Coming up this weekend is Memorial Day Weekend. The weekend that marks the beginning of the summer driving season when everyone will hop in their cars and go somewhere. Some may even go to grave sites and lay flowers. Following is a piece I wrote a few years back to remember a simpler time we used to call Decoration Day. That is, the day people decorated graves with flowers and other mementos. I guess that’s why the called it Decoration Day.
May 29, 2006
I remember the folks called it Decoration Day instead of Memorial Day. Just like they used to call it Armistice Day, November 11th, my birthday, instead of Veteran’s day. Sometimes we’d go downtown to watch the parade, but we always went to the cemetery in Green City. There my grandfather Thurmond, his son Thurmond Jr., and Lucille were buried. I remember my mother Annabelle laying flowers on their graves and walking away with tears in her eyes.
I don’t remember Thurmond. I was very young when he died. I was told he was a gentle, God-fearing man. Dad told me that on the day he died he had been to church earlier in the day and invited us all over to Sunday dinner of beans and ham. In those days dinner meant the noon meal, and the evening meal was supper. I don’t recall if he laid down and died before or after dinner. Probably his heart gave out. He went peaceful. Or, I should say, peacefully.
Thurmond Jr., or Junior as they called him, was the oldest. Or, I should say, the eldest. He had attended the University of Missouri and studied agriculture, but joined the Army Air Corps during World War II. He was training to be a helicopter pilot in Oklahoma. More correctly, he was training in Oklahoma to be a helicopter pilot anywhere, but particularly in a war zone. He never got that far, however, and died in a training crash. I was told that he was very bright and a natural leader, as the oldest, or I should say, the eldest, often are.
I never heard my mother talk much about Lucille. That’s because she couldn’t talk about her without crying. Still, I got the message that she was very much loved. She died as a child from polio meningitis. I’ve seen a couple of old black and white pictures of her in a dress. See was cute, and seemed happy.
We used to take holidays more seriously back then. Decoration Day was for commemorating the dead. The Fourth of July was for celebrating our Independence and was called Independence Day, and included parades, bands, and speeches, not just picnics and fireworks. Labor Day was to honor workers and to celebrate the benefits that organized labor brought to our living standards. Columbus Day was to celebrate the “discovery” of America by white Europeans. Armistice Day was to commemorate the end of the war to end all wars–World War I– that ended at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month. We were all about patriotism and celebrating, but with appropriate decorum and deference given to our elders and those who sacrificed so we could live free and secure. Patriotism was so big in the 50’s and early 60’s that one of the employees of the Missouri State Highway Department, where my Dad worked as a construction inspector, lobbied to have Flag Day off. It didn’t work, but he showed up–I should say arrived–at work the next day with a table top American Flag sticking out of a hole in his cap.
Which reminds me of my wedding night. I got pulled over, which is to say apprehended, by the local deputy in Waverly, Missouri, for passing a truck that was going 5 miles per hour on a yellow line. I didn’t see the stop sign. The deputy said that I “Plum run right through it”, which is to say I plum didn’t stop and went through the intersection without slowing down. He just couldn’t let me go, but did offer to fetch, which is to say, round up, the local judge. However, he didn’t know if that would be a good idea. Actually, he knew it wasn’t, because the judge’s son was the quarterback of the local football team and he was in the middle of the game that night. I told the deputy I’d take the ticket and come back to court the next week. When I returned to Waverly, the court was being held in a corner of the feed store. The judge was sitting behind a table and on the table was a small table top American Flag. It was really more than rolling a stop sign, the Judge said, but he’d let me go for $15.00.
Which reminds me of another American Flag story. Fuzz Hussy in Avalon, Missouri, was so offended when one of his cronies accused him of being unpatriotic, that he painted his rambler as an American Flag. That is to say, the horizontal clap boards were alternate red and white, and the upper left corner was blue with white stars. I didn’t count the stars to see if there were 50, but I bet there were. I also didn’t count to see if there were 13 stripes. All this in glossy enamel so that even in broad daylight the house glowed red, white and blue. Maybe it stood out even more in contrast to the run down rusted machinery, abandoned cars up on blocks, the refrigerators on the front porches, and the mangy mean dogs Avalon was famous for.
Today a couple of my Mormon neighbors here in Utah are flying flags in their front yards. I wonder if they were reminded at the local Ward House by the Bishop to fly the colors? Back when Brigham Young brought the original Mormon pioneers over the mountains and settled in the Salt Lake Valley, he envisioned a separate nation called Deseret. I wonder if there was a flag of Deseret, and if there were, I wonder how they depicted sand and dust? In any event, which is to say, it came to pass, that Brigham wised up and declared his allegiance to the United States of America, and lobbied for statehood, which was not to be until the Saints denounced polygamy in the 1890’s. Just as well, because Brother Young would have had a hard time knowing what to do with his 50 or so wives.
You’ve probably figured by now that I really don’t know where all this is heading, or, more importantly, what the point is. Which is to say, “Randy, what’s the point?”
The point is we used to be more decorous. Which is to say, we conducted ourselves with more decorum. In the 50’s and 60’s in the mid-west, before the Beatles invasion, the escalated Vietnam, and the summer of love, everyone used to go to church. I had a crew cut that I stood up with Butch Wax, which was a pink version of bearing grease that used to roll down my forehead into my eyes that were covered with black horned-rimmed glasses so that I used to look like little Lord Fauntleroy. Or is it Font-Leroy? Whatever. I had a starched white shirt with a tight collar and a clip-on bow tie. I was an Eagle Scout with the God and Country medal. I was inducted into the Boy Scout’s secret order of Mic-O-Say, which was the local version of the Order of the Arrow, where we dressed up like Indians and were given secret names that came to us in a Revelation after sitting out all night alone tending a campfire without sleeping. I mean, I was the one without sleep, not the campfire. Anyway, I’d tell you my secret name, but then I’d have to kill you. I won’t, so how’s that for restraint and decorum?