Saturday, May 26, 2012

Having traveled widely in graveyards ...

I've written a lot about Memorial Day over the years, occasionally with grace but more often not. It's an odd holiday, mixing Day of the Dead, fond remembrance, survivor guilt and flag-waving civil religion. Or maybe just beer and barbecue.

Back in the day, silk was big --- I know where all the bodies are buried and there are many of them in Lucas, Monroe, Marion, Appanoose and Wayne: 28 grandparents of varying generations alone. A couple of times, I decorated the graves of all just to be able to say I'd done it. Greener now, that doesn't happen. Live plants go to a few graves, then come home to be replanted a few days later. Fond remembrance.

I can take you to the scattered gaves of all Lucas and Wayne countyans who died in Vietnam and are buried here and to a few other graves in neighboring counties and elsewhere besides. Survivor guilt?

I know where many young men who died of AIDS are buried, too --- another war on many fronts in my lifetime and one that continues. The first were buried quietly by families shamed by myth. I could stand with you at the grave of the first whose actual cause of death was acknowledged in an obituary in the Chariton newspapers.

Haven't attended a formal Memorial Day program in years, although I used to. These often go well until a speaker, asked to say something appropriate, gets up and tries to do so.

Decoration Day commenced formally in 1868 to commemorate the Union Civil War dead. There's a little about that here in an old post entitled "A flag for Daniel McDermott."   The "Evans Cemetery monument" is, to my mind, the most evocative reminder nearby. And "Faded letters, tattered flags" talks a little about two of my uncles, brothers who were Civil War fatalities. Survivor guilt comes though uncomfortably here, at "Names."

I used to think it was kind of shameful, all that revelry on a solemn day of remembrance. But the more people you bury, the more appealing beer and barbecue become.

No comments: