Memorial Day… I remember when it was always May 30th and not just the last Monday of May so there would be a three-day weekend. I remember when it was a solemn day for remembering those who had given their lives for this country , when it was not just about sales and when BBQ’s were a rarity. I remember when it was a day for a patriotic parade and a time to visit family graves and perhaps leave a plant or wreath.
I remember that each year of elementary school the biggest occasion of the year was a Memorial Day program. It being suburban Boston and late May, lilacs were in full bloom, and bouquets of them were packed blossom to blossom along the edge of the stage. We kids had been taught “My Country ’tis of Thee,” all the verses of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and all the verses of “America the Beautiful,” and of course our national anthem. . Encouraged to dress in white, we wore cross-shoulder sashes of red , white and blue and proudly stood to sing these songs.
There were kids -three I can call by name even now- who had solos: ” Just Before the Battle Mother,” and “We’re Tenting Tonight on the Old Camp Grounds” were all favorites., and we joined in on “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again.” We especially liked the “Hurrah, hurrah” of that song.
Each year one student was chosen to recite “In Flanders Fields” a WWI poem about the poppies and crosses on the once battle field.
Veterans from the different services attended , and I have
a memory of someone in uniform helping an old, fragile, shaking soldier to the podium and introducing him as from the Civil War. Of course this was probably only possible the year I was in first grade and the old soldier had to have been a young drummer boy in the war.
These are old memories. When I was in first grade, 1944-1945 , the United States was still at war, and there was a universal feeling of patriotism and solemnity which lasted for several years. All I know is that when I smell lilacs I am transported to the Fulton School in Medford, Massachusetts, and hear patriotic music ringing in my ears.
Dorothy C. Judd (c) 2017