The Pittsburgh Press (June 2, 1941)
I DARE SAY —
This, too, is America
By Florence Fisher Parry
We call it Decoration Day and I still like our name for it better. Memorial Day is all right, it has a patriotic and impressive ring to it, you say it, and you promptly see the flags and platforms, the martial march of men.
But to millions of plain Americans, Decoration Day is not tied up with armies and victories and making the world safe for democracy at all. It is simply Old Home Day, when families meet in the way they do at Thanksgiving, and spend the day together, and remember their dead.
The graves they “decorate” may not bear flags at all and most of them hold the dust of important persons who never saw a battlefield or wore a uniform. Some of the graves are tiny and unmarked, some are grown over and neglected for the rest of the year, some hold the bones of cowards and weaklings and some have tombstones on which are inscribed the simple empty annal of most human beings: Born ____ Died ____.
But on Decoration Day, they are remembered – worthy and unworthy alike. The graveyards of America make me think of that lovely line that is the supreme definition of the word “home”:
Home is where, when you have to come back, they have to take you in.
Old Home Day
It used to be a little different – before the war, I mean – the last war. It hadn’t grown to be so… so national. There was the parade, of course, down Main Street, of the local band and the marching old G.A.R. soldiers, and others of them drawn slowly in cars. And the little children with their flags and baskets, and the ceremony in the Public Square. But it was all so… unrelated. Musty, even, in a pleasant, patriotic way.
But what had the soldier dead in the old graveyard to do with OUR Decoration Day? OUR Decoration Day was bound up in our FAMILY dead, those who lay up there in the new Circle Hill, those whom we remembered. Grandmother and grandfather and their own gathered around them in a little flock of graves in the “family” lot. And we there, putting geraniums, with elaborate impartiality, upon each “relation’s” grave.
Even when the graves of Uncle Cyrus and of Max, “our” Civil War and Spanish-American graves, were honored with new flags on Decoration Day, that was something apart, that had nothing to do with the FAMILY ceremony. Decoration Day was OURS. A family day.
It was only when the new lot was bought that Decoration Day became suddenly close and real. But even when the cross was out there, the one brought over from the little hasty limestone cemetery in France, and the slab’s bronze tablet declared how he had died “for justice” somewhere in France – even then it was OUR grave, OUR dead, even then it was not the new flag that made it Memorial Day to us – it was that he was dead, that we had lost him, and now were gathered there to weep his death…
And, later, so soon after, when the new lot began to fill… These newer dead, their graves bore no flag, no martial record. But Decoration Day belonged to them, it was their day, too.
Not the war dead – the FAMILY dead – that’s for whom we have our Decoration Day, all over America. Our babies who were torn from our arms, our mothers and fathers, our lovers – Oh, all who lie up there in Circle Hill – or wherever, in our land, our graveyards are!
That’s what makes our Memorial Day so intimate and sacred. It is Old Home Day for our family memories.
Time out for home
Oh, I think that of all the days we put aside for special honoring, this is the loveliest. Time off to remember. Time off to weep. Time off to find reunion in each other.
The roads were full on Thursday night, millions of cars were bent upon a single objective: HOME. Some of them would, next day, go up to their own graveyards, wherever they were, and stand silent and sad before some tombstone… But only a comparative few would stand before a flag-decked grave. This did not keep them from going home, though. And even those who had no graves to visit, they, too, were on their way to a living reunion. Old Home Day, Old Home Day all over America!
They would get home in time to sit around the dining room or kitchen table, with those who were waiting up for them, and exchange together the warm, exciting news of the family. They would sleep long and sweetly and rise early and dress and be out on the porch in time for the early parade. The old familiar savors of baking and cooking would set a-stirring a hunger for home dishes, and presently they would sit down together and eat as they had not eaten since they were home before!
Then they would drive together to the cemetery and see “how the graves look” and place some extra flowers here and there. And the children would run around the monument and markers, and the dog would leap and bark. And there would be far many more smiles than tears – Oh far! Never mind the flutter of the flag yonder in the shadow of that white cross, never mind the new graves that pressed around about… It was Old Home Day, NOT given over only to the war dead. Not given over even to the family dead. But rather shared with them. A day of HAPPY memories; yes, happy, for all its brimful hearts.