Dating back to the Civil War when survivors decorated soldiers’ graves, Memorial Day is when we honor those who lost their lives while serving in our armed forces. Considering we had to bury 600,000 troops on both sides in the matter of four years, this level of devastation was unprecedented, and honoring our dead became much more of a need rather than a courtesy. The holiday became an official amalgamation of such memorial ceremonies around the country. There is a naturally mournful undertone to it, but it is also a story of unity too. Deborah Fallows tells just one tale during the antebellum in this article in The Atlantic.
Our tradition of remembering has continued since then. Most towns have a local parade and with a simple ceremony at the end. During this weekend, over 150,000 visitors, some fresh with their grief, some accustomed to it, pay their respects at Arlington National Cemetery. This piece profiles Mr. Darrell Stafford, the head caretaker at the cemetery, and the pride his team and he takes in their work of laying our troops to rest and tending to those who are resting. It’s a rare glimpse at what goes on behind the scenes in one of more somber parts of American life.
There is a lighter side to the holiday too. Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer. School is winding down in the districts with the traditional schedules of being closed for the summer. The weather is turning warmer up in the North, although it doesn’t seem like it in some parts. People have planted or are planting their annual favorites whether they are the containers of tomatoes on the balcony or the rows of begonias that are the mainstay of your front entrance. It’s that first getaway to the beach. It’s the first big cookout. It’s our camping trip we were anticipating. We are dusting our mental cobwebs out.
If you are an auto racing fan, you have achieved nirvana this weekend. You had the Indianapolis 500, NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte, and the legendary Monaco Grand Prix all in the same weekend. Festering on the couch never looked so good.
It could also be the weekend of PROJECTS, and there are plenty of Big Box DIY Store advertisements that will remind you of all the crap you have to do, if you are fortunate enough to be a homeowner.
Over the Atlantic, the Britons have a long weekend too. It is their Late Spring Bank Holiday. Bank Holiday is a common term for a public holiday, and it stemmed from the Bank Holidays Act of 1871. These were the designated days where you received a break (like you would on the common holidays of Christmas and Good Friday) from having to make payments and such to the bank. In England, Wales, and Ireland, they included Easter Monday, the First Monday of May, the First Monday of August, and Boxing Day. Because of separate holiday traditions in Scotland, the days were Christmas, New Year’s Day, Good Friday, First Monday of May, and First Monday of August. So, Scotland were shorted a day. I am sure this was noted on the Scottish National Party’s grievance list.
The Boffin described the Late Spring Bank Holiday as misleading. People think the weather has finally turned warm and pleasant, when in reality the lingering wetness remains. So your weekend away turns into eating chips under a bus shelter or playing cards in your caravan. And if by some sort of Divine Providence the weather is good, everyone is on the road; the infrastructure is snarled; and then it starts raining anyway.
It sounds like the Boffin has fond memories.
So this weekend is a bittersweet weekend, but it is one to be appreciated and respected. I certainly hope yours was good in whatever form it took.