When I was a boy, Memorial Day marked the beginning of summer. At the end of May, people were still putting their gardens in, evenings were still cool, spring peepers were calling from the ponds, and farmers were getting in their first hay.
The festivities on Memorial Day had a different feeling from other holidays. Many men in our small town had been in the armed services, and there was a quiet, mostly unspoken love of country in all of us.
When I was little, there were quite a few Sons of Veterans of the Civil War still around, who marched in the parade on Memorial Day or (more likely) sat in review while the parade went by.
There would be a chicken barbeque at the church, and then people would go outside for the parade. It wasn’t much of a parade, as the route from the church up to the cemetery was only about 300 yards. Flags were handed out to the children, and we all formed into a long straggling line. A group of younger veterans led the group, and the high school band usually came to march with us. It wasn’t so much a parade as a procession, since everybody was part of it.
When we got up to the green in front of the Civil War monument, one of the older men stood out in front of the group and read Logan’s Orders. John A. Logan was a Civil War general who later led the veterans’ organization, and his letter initiated the national observance of Memorial Day. After the reading of Logan’s orders, the honor guard fired a triple salute. Then, from the trees behind the Civil War monument, one of the trumpet players would play Taps.
After the ceremony, everyone walked through the cemetery and put flags on all of the veterans’ graves. It was a solemn time, but not a sad one – there was a dignity to Memorial Day, but the children running everywhere kept it from being too serious.
Everyone who had a lilac bush contributed blossoms to put on the graves, too. One year, I remember my mother found that a moose had come up and eaten them all, and also left great deep hoof prints the size of a plate all over the lawn, which annoyed her no end.
Driving through other towns, we kids always followed the well-known rule that you had to hold your breath when passing a cemetery, just as everyone in the car but the driver had to lift their feet when crossing a railroad track, but we were never afraid of the friendly cemetery in our town.
A big hurricane hit New England back in 1938 – the first to strike the area since 1869. It knocked down a lot of gravestones. The caretaker repaired as many as he could, but some were broken off too low or he couldn’t find the site. He took one of them up to my grandparents’ house and we used it for a door step.
Quakers don’t make as much of Memorial Day as some other churches do. War is terrible, and we pray for peace, but our cemetery here at Springfield holds quite a number of veterans. We’re compassionate towards everyone who has lost a relative or a friend, just as we remember all who die in war or are wounded in body, mind or spirit.
– Josh Brown