Even though Memorial Day is not quite here, this column is better enjoyed before than after the fact.
I have kept a letter from Juanita Deal of Athens, Ohio, for a year because it paints such a tender picture of what were such sweet times, before “Decoration Day” became just another holiday — an “off” weekend and a parade where candy is tossed to the children.
Juanita wrote to me after last year’s Memorial Day column, and she gave me permission to use her letter. Some of you might recall Memorial Day activities and memories similar to those she remembers.
I don’t know Juanita’s age but in a subsequent letter she mentions that in six years her home will have been in the family for 100 years and the land has been in the family for seven generations.
She writes: “It is Decoration Day. When I was young we would sort out the canning jars that had nicks in the rim. These we would use to take bouquets of peonies, iris, flags, lemon lily, snowball, roses and whatever was blooming to the cemeteries to put on the graves of loved ones.
“On Sunday we would take cut flowers to church, all the veterans of the community would be there and a color guard as well. The children would say pieces and the veterans would stand up, give their name, rank and where they served.
“They would be given a flower for their lapel. Then we would go outside. The color guard would fire a couple of rounds and play taps. After they finished, the children would pick up the flowers and place one on each grave that had a flag.
“It was time to take down the quilting frame and put it overhead in the coal house. Also take down the pot-bellied heating stove and pack it to the barn. Bring out the lawn furniture and give it a fresh coat of paint. The trees were whitewashed.
“You went to the greenhouse to see all the pretty flowers. Pick out some verbena and lantana for porch and window boxes. You also brought the geraniums and other flowers up from the cellar.
“The men would pull cabbage, tomato and sweet potato plants out of the cold frame for you to put in the garden along with seed you had ordered from Gurney’s. You always got the kids a pack for a penny. You never knew what treasures would be in it.
“Now all people can think of are car races, going to the pool or the river. They have a three-day weekend to indulge themselves. Some places still have parades and observances but they are not well attended.
“I saw one article about an observance near the turn of the century when the Civil War was still on people’s minds that attracted 500 people. Children aren’t taught to show respect like we were.” Amen!
Thank you, Juanita, for giving us a glimpse into the way it once was, and sadly is no more. Yes, many communities still have parades and observances, and with the ongoing wars everywhere, it is so important to keep the focus on the sacrifices that are being made rather than on a three-day holiday.
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From an environmental magazine, I clipped this quote from Emmy Lou Harris, the country singer.
She said of the environment, “It’s where we all live. I saw a great bumper sticker once on a vehicle in Nashville. It said, ‘We all live downstream.’
“Anything that’d done anywhere in the world can have negative consequences for everyone. We need to be aware that we’re caretakers of this extraordinary world we live in.”
Think of the horrific oil spill, of the tornados, of the floods, of the earthquakes, of the exploding volcanoes — yes, we do live downstream, and yes, every phase of our lives is affected.