As you probably know, Memorial Day weekend is coming up in the USA.
Traditionally, we’ll pause our normal lives to honor our fellow Americans who lost their lives while doing battle for our country.
Memorial Day was previously called ‘Decoration Day’ and was started by a group called the Freedmen in 1865, which was just a few years before my time.
BTW: Congress moved the “official” date of ‘Memorial Day’ to the last Monday of May so they could have a three day weekend.
Naturally, the official line was “they were doing it for us working stiffs.
The intent and meaning of Memorial Day:
(Treasa brought this possible confusion to my attention when she asked how it was different than Veteran’s Day.)
Contrary to many of the times she foolishly asks me a question, this time she asked the right dude.
You see, Memorial Day was a very big deal when I was a kid.
When I was growing up, Memorial Day weekend brought a gathering of the extended, and thankfully geographically scattered, Thorpe family members back to their Kentucky roots.
…I say ‘Thankfully’, because I shutter to contemplate the probable chaos of us living in a confined area.
Anyway, those wandering Thorpes who could make the trip, would show up at the various homes of non-wandering Thorpes who had stayed planted in Kentucky while the ‘smart’ Thorpes moved north to find jobs in factories, so they could put groceries on the table without constant worry about weather patterns and this year’s price for the crops in their fields.
Actually, the visiting Thorpes only slept at different houses.
Most of their waking hours were spent at our house and at my Uncle John’s house, which was just down the road ‘a-short-piece’.
Without the services of an official party planner, or any direction from a social director, the weekend quickly evolved into a rambling blowout of drinking, sometimes heated arguing, more drinking, serious lying and stories based on faulty memories, a little more drinking, raucous displays of one-up-man-ship, yet more drinking, in-door and outdoor cooking, some serious drinking, endless eating & sporadic eating contests, really serious drinking, games of horseshoes, softball, basketball, 100 yard dashes, potato sack races, push-up contests, pull-up challenges, target shooting, and bouts of dedicated drinking, until after lunch on Memorial Day.
Memorial Day afternoons got serious…
After lunch we’d all load up and visit the family graveyard where family members who died while serving our country had been laid to rest.
Somehow, within all the rowdiness of the weekend, some of the adult men would have got together and cut grass, dig out weeds and generally spruced up the cemetery grounds into a park-like setting.
In those days, the condition of that sacred cemetery was a matter of pride and an expression of love to those whose lives were shortened by wars that old men started and young men fought.
Despite the drinking and general raucous behavior that normally erupts any time you get two, or more, Thorpes together, I remember the cemetery pilgrimage being a somber, spiritually moving affair.
Once at the cemetery, the headstones and even the dirt on grave sites were fondled as if the missing loved ones could feel the caresses.
Fresh flowers were laid around headstones, passionate prayers were offered and favorite stories about those missing were shared and laughed about.
Buckets of tears were shed and I sometimes overheard curses muttered by uncles & cousins who had made it back from the ‘Big-One’ and from Korea.
Thankfully, I was too inexperienced to completely understand the deep-seated feelings of longing, regret, pride, and the shearing pain of never-ending loss that was suffered by the moms, dads, brothers, sisters, kids, uncles, aunts, and cousins.
I just liked all the rumbling noises and the giddy excitement of an exciting weekend spent surrounded by my big old dumb family, of whom I was proudly a part of.
Man, do I ever wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then…