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Memories of Decoration Day

Posted Thursday, May 24, 2012, at 11:55 AM

History tells us that Memorial Day originated after the Civil War in an effort to commemorate the fallen Union soldiers of the Civil War. In the south, ladies organizations and schoolchildren had decorated Confederate graves in Richmond and other cities during the Civil War. Though most regions in the south had their own specific day for the celebrations, most of the dates were in May.

By the time the 1900s came around, Memorial Day has been extended to honor all Americans who had served in the armed forces and who had died in one of the nation's wars.

Today, it seems to have become something other than a time to remember those who have gone before, and especially those who have laid down their lives while serving the country.

When I was a much younger person, in the hills country of northern Arkansas, folks used to gather on a weekend in late to mow the grass, trim the fence rows, and pick up fallen twigs and small branches from the local cemeteries. Many times, these "clean up" days were followed a week or so later with what the hill folks called Decoration Day.

A church service early in the morning would be followed by an afternoon of outdoor fun and "dinner on the ground," where large pieces of plywood, old doors, sheets and blankets table cloths, and anything else that would make a good table, were spread out on the ground to hold a virtual smorgasbord of home-cooked country delights. And this wasn't just any old Sunday afternoon barbecue.

There were salads of all sorts; all kinds of breads and rolls; ham and turkey and pork roast and roast beef and pan-fried breaded catfish and piles of what they called "fresh ham." There were rings of different flavored gelatins filled with fruit cocktail, or mandarin oranges, or bananas, or peaches. 
And a couple of tables piled high with cakes and pies. There were apple pies and cherry pies and coconut cream pies and just plain cream pies and gooseberry pies and blackberry cobbler and peach cobblers and apple cobblers. And a few ladies always made a big bowl of home-made banana pudding, complete with sliced bananas and vanilla wafers across the top.

After "dinner" the kids would run and play in the church yard or down by the creek; adults would mill around and visit about first one thing then another; and the musicians would strike up the chords of the old hymns so everyone could sing along. 
And always there were tributes made to those who had died in the wars, and to family members who had passed in the previous year, and to those long past who built the church or donated the land for the cemetery or what-have-you. It was both a time for remembering and a time to look forward to whatever might lie ahead.

By the end of the day we were all "give out" as the grandmas used to say. But there was a feeling of being part of something bigger than ourselves that we carried with us back to the small farmsteads and truck patch gardens and clapboard houses scattered deep in the hollers and up on the ridges and down on the banks of the life-giving creeks and streams.

I remember well these "all day singing and dinner on the ground" events. 
They provided the local folks an opportunity to get together and enjoy life and to share that joy with others. And I am maybe a little bit saddened by what Memorial Day seems to have become -- a time to mark the beginning of the summer vacation season and a time for trips to the lake and shopping sprees at the malls. I'm not being judgmental, mind you; I'm just a little bit saddened over what we seem to have lost.



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Bob Stewart is pastor of Union Baptist Church. His long-running column ranges in topic from matters of faith to observations about life in Saline County, politics and the sights to see in travels throughout America.
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