In reading about the original purpose of Decoration Day, I found that it was originally designated as a day to decorate the graves of any person who died in military service to the United States. I also learned that the southern states refused to celebrate this day in that way due to lingering hostile feelings toward the Union.
When I was a kid, my Mother, Aunts, and Grandmothers busied themselves toward the end of May with preparations for Decoration Day. The Sunday closest to May 30 was the designated day to dress in our Sunday best, take a picnic lunch, and go to the local cemeteries for the afternoon. The women of the family would bring along the floral wreaths they had made, the men would bring rakes and shovels, and everyone would clean the graves of any family members they could find in the graveyard. After the wreaths were laid, the adults would stand around and admire their work.
I'm sure this was supposed to be a solemn occasion but it was lost on all us kids. We would usually run around the graveyard with our mothers yelling at us not to step on any graves. It was fun to see our cousins and eat some delicious picnic food. Most of the time the food was cold fried chicken, potato salad, cole slaw and a cake or pie. Also, there was usually an endless supply of soda pop. We kids were determined to drink our fill since we didn't get treats like this very often.
As I grew up, I no longer took part in the goings-on surrounding Decoration Day, now called Memorial Day. A couple of years ago my family was invited to an aunt's house for the Memorial Day weekend. My cousins wanted us to take part in decorating our relatives' graves. As in the past, we did not limit our wreaths to the military men but decorated all the graves. This time, being grown up, it was a solemn affair. With the graves being in a perpetual care cemetery, we did not have any cleaning to do. After the wreaths were laid, we said a prayer then stood there together admiring our work.
It was in that instant I realized the link with our past had been made. The connection with our family was intact. After all these years we were still carrying on traditions put in place many years ago. Times had changed but the feeling was still the same.