Memorial Day is a 1934 village fire engine creeping along the main drag. Memorial Day is the mournful wail of the old air siren on the bumper. Memorial Day is an old farmer in his American Legion hat, waving from his tractor. Memorial Day is the street lined with families whose toddlers clamber clumsily with outstretched hands in the hope of catching candy from the Jaycees float. Memorial Day is Greenlawn Cemetery, where a high school girl in her nicest church dress, nervously, methodically recites In Flanders Fields. Memorial Day is Gramp walking away to visit the baby brother he rarely mentions, because they were on the same hill and the guilt is crushing. Memorial Day is flowers and tiny flags and all the touches that make a gravestone seem softer and less forbidding.
Most of all, Memorial Day is whatever you'd like it to be.
The holiday--originally known as Decoration Day--was officially designated on May 5th, 1868, by President Grant to honor and decorate with flowers the graves of fallen soldiers from the Civil War.
"The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land."
The date of Decoration Day was chosen because it was not the anniversary of any particular battle.
In latter years, Memorial Day has become a battleground all its own. Casual analysis indicates that this phenomenon is mostly due to coincidence of two long, often inscrutable wars and the rise of social media. With each passing Memorial Day, Facebook and its analogs light up with admonishments from veterans, their spouses, or your local grocer about what Memorial Day "really means." The rush to pre-judgment is impressive. Critics stand up the straw man of "National BBQ Day" and knock him down with self-righteous vigor. The rising chorus of preemptive indignation carries an all-too-familiar refrain. How dare you say "Happy Memorial Day"? Don't you know what this is ABOUT? Memorial Day isn't a HAPPY day!
One of the great joys of this fine nation we've wrought is the inherent right to feel however you darn well please about anything. For me, Memorial Day means a parade down Plymouth Street and a nice picnic at Grandmother's. That was the Memorial Day of my youth, and I choose to keep it near and dear to my heart. My personal experiences have amplified the somber feeling of this day, but they don't negate the love and joy that marked the start of a hot Ohio summer.
Memorial Day is not a national funeral. It cannot be. The outspoken veterans of America (including yours truly) should probably stop expecting our fellow citizens to go about all day in tears, sobbing quietly for our war dead. To many people, the day has great personal meaning. How each of us chooses to express that is as individual as our wonderful American lives. We cannot look inside another's heart or head to know how they hold Memorial Day dear.
For me, Memorial Day will always be a parade down Plymouth St. For you, it is surely something else entirely. Whatever about this day swells your heart in joy or sadness, I hope it is a happy day for you and your loved ones. A day of veneration, a day of remembrance, or even a day of barbecues and watching your child grasp at the air for a flying Tootsie Roll.
So from us to you, have a wonderful, personal, meaningful, and happy Memorial Day.