Today, May 30th is the Real Memorial Day. Oh yeah, sure the calender shows that the 4th Monday in May to be the correct day. Yet that same calendar notates it as the Observed Memorial Day. In fact I have several calendars that say the same thing. And these same calendars indicate May 30th as Traditional Memorial Day.
Why the conflict? What happen in history to bring about this split? Some history first. It was originally called Decoration Day, a name my maternal Grandmother used most of her life. Decoration Day was a day set aside to remember the dead Union Soldiers right after the American Civil War. One of the first such days of paying respect took place in Charleston South Carolina, by former slaves at a cemetary they created for dead Union soldiers killed there. The date, May 1st 1865 ! The following year, on May 5th, in Waterloo New York, what is deemed the original yearly Decoration/Memorial day observance began.
Finally on May 5th 1868 A proclamation by the Grand Army Of The Republic (GAR) declared that May 30th would henceforth be the day to honor the Union's dead. It was to remain primarily a Northern States phenomenon. It was after World War I, that it became a day to pay due respect to all American soldiers killed. The official name change from Decoration Day to Memorial Day took place in 1967. The following year as part of federal legislation to create 3 day holidays, the change from the 30th of May, to the 4th Monday in May occured. So since May of 1971 the country has a nice 3 day holiday to do what they deem fit.
In my family, well at least on my mother's side, Memorial Day was a very important day. I grew up calling it Decoration Day, since that is what my Grandmother was still calling it. It was she who put the true reason for the holiday into her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. We were taught to honor the dead on this day, as many do. Yet we went beyond that concept of just acknowledging those who served in the military. No we honored all our forebears. Those members of our family whose sacrifices made us, being us, possible.
Every Memorial Day, back when it was the 30th of May, was spent in caravan following my Grandparents from one cemetary to another to see that all graves received a memorial of flowers. There are 4 cemetaries that we would attend to, 100 + miles to go to them all. But no cousin, sister, brother, parent, or great grandparent was not honored.
It's not that our family never had any respect for the military and its soldiers. We did. We were just lucky, in that fewer members of our family, were killed in war than in their every day lives. Ours was not a family of wealth. Farmers, miners, sheepherders.That was the family vocational history, though my Grandmother's father was a Mayor for a time in his town. Hard working, small town people, who had hard lives, and at times, harder deaths. Both of my Grandparents lost close family to the Great 1918 Flu Pandemic. A nephew of my grandfather served in World War, only to come home and die in a mining accident in Park City, Utah. So we paid respect to these, the people in our lives who paid dearly so we could be here.
We did this every year, on the 30th of May. Then as the '70s wore on , it became harder to maintain our historic observation. So like the rest of the country we adopted the new holiday. As more years passed we started going out on the Saturday of the holiday weekend, This was so other plans could be made for that precious day off. Always a reason for the extended family to get together. Aunts, uncles, cousins, children and parents. It was/is our duty to pay respects to our forebears. It is our fortune to celebrate our modern family.
This year, as for the last 3 years I have been unable to partake of this family tradition. In fact I find myself lost, here in this midwest location, with nowhere to go and do what I had done for 50 years. Neither my wife or I have any deceased family members in the area to pay our respects to. Oh we attended Monday's Parade/Commemeration. But my heart and mind are in Utah, on a windswept hill halfway between Salt Lake City and Provo . It is there, in a state maintained Veterans Cemetary. There is the only grave of a deceased member of the military that matters to my immediate family. It is of a 23 year old young man who served his country, and lost his life while in their control. That young man was my Only Son, who has lain under that hill for nearly a decade now.
As a last note, I do know that this is the true Memorial Day. How? I was Born on this day 55 years ago in a small central Nevada town. I missed that year's rights of rememberance. A wee bit too young, no? But as I said it was a day for the family to be together. And in those pre 1971 Memorial Day observances, after the wreath laying, the recounting of who this was, of how they died. After all the honors due were paid, We would head to a park, have a picnic, complete with a cake for yours truly. In fact because of time constraints, on several years the cake was cut and served off the back of Grandpa's pick-up, in the cemetary ! No I dont consider it sacrilegious or in bad taste. We were with Family. 100 plus years of our dear, loved, respected family.