The blooms just might make it this year.
My mother always called our upcoming national holiday “Decoration Day,” because that’s what Memorial Day was known as for nearly a century. The origins of this patriotic holiday trace back to the time of the Civil War, when soldiers from both the North and the South were remembered, at various places and in a variety of ways.
An internet search of the holiday’s origins left me a bit confused, because different websites have similar, but sometimes slightly contrasting, Memorial Day facts and data. For instance, more than one place has declared their location the “birthplace” of Memorial Day, including our own Boalsburg in Centre County, Pennsylvania.
But the birthplace of the holiday was officially designated by then-President Lyndon Johnson in 1966, as Waterloo, New York. (One internet site states that scholars have since discredited that the holiday began there, however.)
In 1971, federal law also officially established the day of observance as the fourth Monday in May.
The town of Doylestown, near Philadelphia, claims to have the longest-running tradition of Memorial Day parades, beginning with the first one in 1868. But, Rochester, Wisconsin, claims it had the first, beginning one year earlier.
Obviously, some controversy about the origins of this national holiday remains unsolved.
Of course, in recent times, Memorial Day also offers the perfect opportunity to celebrate and usher in the annual summertime beach and pool season, despite the usual tendency for the waters to be more suggestive of the popular, mid-winter fundraisers dubbed “polar plunges.”
“Decoration Day,” what I knew this weekend’s observance as during my formative years, earned that designation for the extensive decorations put on local cemeteries to memorialize and honor those who had passed on in service to our country. Today, we remember those who have fallen in military service, heroes who have given their lives for our country, as well as those of our loved ones no longer with us.
In those simpler times, holidays were often observed with more homemade and homespun things, rather than some decorative and celebratory item purchased at a local retail store. Like today, cemeteries were brightened with bouquets and wreaths of colorful flowers. But they were more likely to be bouquets of flowers from yards and gardens, rather than today’s popular synthetic blooms fashioned from plastics and polyester materials.
In keeping with the patriotic theme of Decoration Day, honoring veterans, my mother would gather armfuls of two of late spring’s most iconic perennial blooms, irises and peonies. The peonies were generally a deep shade of pink, and maybe some white ones, mixed with the blue-purple iris.
In recent years, however, by the time Memorial Day came around, those two iconic flowers — at least in our garden — have bloomed earlier, and their color was long gone by this last May weekend. But this season, with the extended cooler weather of recent weeks, those two perennials seem to be on holiday target.
My first iris blossoms opened last week in pretty pink, but the blue ones were just beginning earlier this week. And the fat buds of the bright-pink peonies, originating from my mom’s gardens, should be opening now. With a bit of luck and cooperation by the weather, the stars — or maybe flowers — will “align” for a re-creation of Mom’s classic, iconic Memorial Day cemetery bouquets in red (almost), white and blue.
Flags, in red, white and blue, will likewise flap in the breezes in a myriad of resting places all around our nation. It’s been uplifting in recent years to see a resurgence of extensive Memorial Day flag placings, reminding me of the need to purchase a new one to replace our old one, faded from use.
Despite the somewhat uncertain data about the origins of Memorial Day, one thing is definite: at 3 p.m. on Monday, we can all join together for the National Moment of Remembrance, paying honor and offering thanks for the sacrifices made by our fallen heroes.
And we can all fly our red, white and blue, honoring them, and the brave folks who continue to march in their footsteps.
Remembering and honoring them is the very least we can do.