Before the 1968 Uniform Holiday Bill changed things, Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30. Since most places of business were open six days a week, there was no such benefit as a long weekend unless the holiday fell on Saturday or Monday.
Since I am admittedly in my anec-dotage, the Memorial Day memory I will share is from my elementary years. My dad worked in retail back when stores were closed only on Sunday and 6 major holidays (New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day). On Memorial Day, whatever weekday that fell on, we “cleaned the graves.”
We lived in Gainesville, Texas and my mother’s parents were (are) buried in Marietta, Oklahoma, in a grave yard maintained by the families of the deceased. After breakfast we loaded the car with various yard tools and drove the 25 miles to do our duty. I do not remember enjoying those trips.
The drive included a scary trek across the narrow, two-lane bridge that spanned the Red River, the boundary between the two states. If I happened to be seated by the window, it was even more scary because it was so far, far down to the water below. But for some reason, I had to look. I know now that fear of heights is a legitimate phobia I can own. But back then I had no idea what was wrong with me. My siblings were bouncing around and singing while I sat gripped with fear, wishing they would sit still lest we topple off the bridge.
Once we reached the grave yard I suppose the idea was that we all pitch in to hoe and rake and clip the weeds and clean around the small markers. (It was years later that my mother’s family was able to buy permanent, granite tombstones for their parents.) But I, always adroit at avoiding any sort of yard work, strolled around the cemetery reading head stones, calculating ages, imagining the stories behind the terse epitaphs.
The rest of the day was usually spent with a picnic lunch, maybe a ride on up Highway 77 to visit Turner Falls. It’s interesting (to me at least) that most of my memories are around the cleaning of the graves rather than picnics. Though I was a child this was the beginning of my interest in the lives of those grandparents who died before I was born. And (later in life) my realization that my Dad took one of his rare days off from work to do this for my mother.