10 Things About Memorial Day

Earlier this year, I did a 10 Things post about Valentine’s Day. It’s a widely celebrated holiday in many countries and has evolved quite a bit over the years. This month, I decided to tackle Memorial Day. Though many countries have something similar to honor deceased soldiers, the day it’s celebrated in the United States can and does vary from other countries. The how and the why it got started is also different.

Since most of my 10 Things posts are specifically themed to help writers think about ways to round out their worldbuilding, I thought this might be an interesting way to take another look at a holiday. Conceptually, it is celebrated in other countries, but not usually at the same time and certainly with different traditions. Are there multiple cultures, real or imagined in your fiction? Do they have holidays that differ? Perhaps theirs are based on the local dominant religion or celebrations of important victories in national history. Some holidays may be shared in totality, others in concept, others not at all.

And yes, I know I could use a specific religious holiday(s) that just passed to make my point, but I’ll be honest. I don’t know enough about that holiday to do it justice and there are some things that online research can’t completely explain. If any of my readers know and celebrate such holidays and would like to volunteer to share some thoughts with me, I’d be grateful.

Anyway, here are ten things about Memorial Day:

  1. It was first known as Decoration Day. Starting as far back as 1864, widows would march together to the local cemetery to decorate the graves of deceased Civil War soldiers. While many different towns claim to be the first to celebrate Decoration Day, congressional recognition is given to Waterloo, New York who first organized a community-wide service in 1866. The holiday was first granted to living soldiers as a time to honor their fallen comrades without being docked a day’s wage on May 30, 1868.
  2. While Waterloo, NY is credited with the first organized service event, there is historical evidence that a year earlier on May 1, 1865 (two weeks before the Civil War officially ended) a group of freed slaves organized to rebury the dead of fallen Union soldiers in proper grave sites.
  3. It wasn’t technically a “national holiday” until the 1970s. Because it was first recognized as a day for soldiers (and eventually other government employees) to visit and decorate the graves of their friends or loved ones as a way to honor them, it wasn’t actually a holiday for civilians. The state of New York was the first state to recognize the holiday for all citizens in 1873. Other states began to follow suit, though many southern states didn’t officially recognize it until after the first World War. It was actually a state holiday that was celebrated by all the states on the same day. In 1971 Congress moved official observance of the day from May 30 to the last Monday in May (Uniform Monday Holiday Act) and made it a federal holiday.
  4. After World War I, it changed from a holiday to honor the dead from the Civil War to a holiday to honor fallen American soldiers from all wars. Evidence of this is the Biker Rally that began in 1988 and continues in Washington, D.C. each year as a way to bring attention to soldiers still “Missing in Action” from Vietnam.
  5. Officially, American flags should be lowered to half-mast until noon on Memorial Day and then returned to full mast. At 3 PM (local time), there is supposed to be a moment of silence to honor those men and women who lost their lives serving their country in military conflicts.
  6. Though Decoration Day was never limited to only the graves of Union soldiers after the Civil War, many states of the former Confederacy still chose to celebrate their fallen on a separate day–a day that is still on the calendar in many southern states. It is a different date for each state that celebrates it and while it is on state calendars, it is not widely celebrated. I’ve lived in the south the vast majority of my life and until it became part of a bigger heated discussion in a news story (about symbols, traditions, and monuments that still honor the Confederacy), I honestly didn’t know that my state even had such a holiday on the calendar. Don’t misunderstand, I’m certain there are people who do celebrate it, I just don’t personally know any (that I’m aware of).
  7. Again, though Waterloo, NY is credited with the first organized community event for Decoration Day (and history shows us that it was only the first recognized event involving white people–see point 2), earlier in 1866 a celebration occurred in Illinois and another in Mississippi (smaller event) where flowers were added to the graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers as a way to promote regional healing while honoring those who lost their lives.
  8. About 5,000 people attended the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in 1868. Arlington National Cemetery sits on land that was confiscated from the wife of Confederate General Robert E. Lee during the Civil War. When other local military cemeteries were close to being full, the Lee estate (known as Arlington House, which also once belonged to the family of George Washington and had been passed down via inheritance and marriage), was deemed suitable and desirable as a new location. However, after the war, the heir of the estate sued the government for confiscating the land without due process. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in his favor and the land was returned in 1882, after it had been used as a military cemetery for almost twenty years. He agreed to sell the land back to the government for $150,000 (about $3.5 million today) and signed the agreement with then-Secretary of War, Robert Todd Lincoln. Let me break that down. The son of the leader of the entire Confederate military sat in a room to sign documents with the son of the president who had been assassinated by Confederate sympathizers after the end of the war, and money exchanged hands. That is some Netflix worthy drama right there. I want to know what each man said to the other that history chose not to record. I bet shade was being thrown left and right.
  9. On Memorial Day of 1984, then-President Ronald Reagan gave a moving speech as a set of bones were added to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington. The tomb was first erected for the remains of a World War I soldier who could not be identified. It is guarded every hour of the day as a way to honor the soldier. Over the years other unidentifiable remains have been added in their own crypts within the tomb. However, the bones added on that Memorial Day in 1984 spurred an investigation that wouldn’t be complete for fourteen years. DNA testing was eventually able to identify the soldier and his remains were reburied near his hometown. His original crypt in the Tomb of the Unkown Soldier remains empty.
  10. Not everyone observes Memorial Day with solemnity. In 1911, the Indianapolis 500’s inaugural race was scheduled on Decoration/Memorial Day. The state of Indiana had observed the holiday since approximately 1890. An attempt to bring back the gravity of the day happened in 1922, when that was the day chosen to dedicate the Lincoln Memorial (with a crowd of 50,000 people present).

When your characters celebrate a holiday, do they know why they celebrate it? Why it’s that day? Do they care? These are things that can help shape both the world you are creating and the personality of your characters.

Think about it. And maybe, if you’re in the U.S., you’ll get a little extra writing time in on this year’s Memorial Day.

Team Effort

I was reading an article recently about how lonely writing can be. It stated that writing is a solitary task. I’ve been thinking about that lately and I think, at least from my somewhat limited perspective, that’s not true. It is true that nobody is going to write your first draft for you. Nobody will volunteer to do your editing or your revising. However, I have a whole group of people who help me, who walk (or rather type) along beside me in my writing journey. I’m anything but alone.

When I first discovered I had a love of writing, I was in a middle school English class. For a creative writing project, I wrote a short (ish) story about a girl who survives the sinking of the Titanic only to grow up and find herself on the ill-fated Hindenburg. It wasn’t quite as macabre as it sounds, and there was even a romantic subplot and a fluffy dog sidekick with suspicious longevity. The story and the writing had a plethora of issues, but for a middle school assignment, it was pretty good. And it opened up the world of writing to me.

In true nerd fashion (I’m owning it), I would write stories with my friends as protagonists and present them as gifts. My senior year, I wrote adventure stories starring my friends. As amazingly dorky as it sounds, they were in high demand. The writing wasn’t going to win any prizes, but it was fun and my friends were entertained. Years later, when college, jobs, and life itself had made writing a thing of my past, some of these same friends–one in particular–would help bring it back.

After I got back into writing for me, I made some friends in a little corner of the internet writing community. They had jumped in with both feet and I was challenged to do the same. My first manuscript was born out of that challenge and one of the people I met then is still one of my CPs today.

Then I joined the writing community on Twitter and met eight more CPs and began learning just how much I had yet to learn about writing. My CP arrangement has changed a bit since then, but every one of those people was important to my process.

Yes, when I sit down to write, I’m writing by myself. But my writing is not a solitary activity. My journey has been full of other people. It began with a teacher who sparked my imagination and continues today with friends who challenge me to grow and be a better writer.

I write on my own, but I’m anything but alone. Writing is a team effort.

 

Team Mom

My 5-year-old plays baseball. Well, T-ball. Though they do a little bit of coach pitching every game. My husband is the assistant coach. My son’s plays on a team with his best friend. His friend’s dad is the coach. It’s a fun dynamic that had made the season extra fun for our boys. However, last week the coach and his family were out of town. That left us in charge.

My husband wasn’t alone on the field. There is a dad of another player who often volunteers to help and last week he was invaluable. But where the coach’s wife is usually in the dugout helping the kids figure out where to be and when, last week that job fell to me.

Y’all.

Being in a dugout with a team full of 5-year-olds is like being locked in a cage match you know you can’t win. These kids are precious and adorable, but they are just so many of them.

Once upon a time, I was a high school teacher. This, however, gave me a whole new respect for kindergarten teachers the world over. None of you are paid enough.

In the dugout, I had nine children from the team plus my 2-year-old. None of the kids exhibited behavioral out of the normal scope for kids their age, it was just a chaotic environment to begin with.

“Where’s my glove?”

“My drink is empty!”

“I can’t get my helmet on!”

“When is it my turn to bat?”

“How many more innings?”

It was everything that can send you over the edge during a family road trip, but you’re not related to most of the kids present.

So, if your kids play sports of any kind, at the end of the season, thank the volunteer coach, but also give a special shout out to the Team Mom. Or Team Dad. Whoever had the patience, kindness, and desire to run the bench.

This week, the coach’s wife will resume her position. Though I might just offer to help her out. That’s not a one person job. Or maybe just not a one ME job. Either way, it’s like a cage match. She needs someone she can tag in when things go haywire.

Team Mom is not for the faint of heart.

Self-Care Isn’t Selfish

May can be a busy time of the year. For students, it can mean finals, graduations, awards ceremonies, spring performances, wrapping up sports seasons, and possibly moving into or out of a living situation. For parents, it means being there for graduations, awards ceremonies, etc. For writers, well we stress ourselves out enough all year long.

My point is, this time of year can be just as stressful as preparing for Christmas, but without the big family holiday at the end. The start of summer vacation is inherently less stressful than hosting all of your family for a large feast in a clean and perfectly decorated house lest Aunt Edna wield her snarky, side-eye wrath. I have no Aunt Edna, but you know what I mean. May can be just as stressful, but we don’t allow ourselves the same amount of self-care time. We don’t schedule extra time for bubble baths, sneaking baked goods, or even prayer.

But taking care of yourself isn’t selfish, no matter what time of year it is. It doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t care for anyone else. It means that you need to secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others with theirs.

If you have the time, take a nap. If you have the means, make that doctor appointment. If you have neither time nor means, then do just one simple thing today that brings you joy. Listen to bad (aka really good) music from the 1990s or download a new audiobook from your local library’s app. Whatever. Just remember to put on your oxygen mask.

If you don’t take care of you, who will?

Poor Doggo

My dog, Major, is ten years old. For a Boxer, that’s on the older side. He still runs and jumps like a puppy when he gets the urge, but there is a lot more gray in his face than there used to be. He groans sometimes when he gets off the floor and I relate more than I’d like to admit. Still, he’s pretty spry for an old pup so I don’t think all that much of it most of the time.

Apparently, neither does he.

This weekend, we visited some family members who have a back deck that sits about six feet off the ground. It has stairs leading down to the yard, but it’s not fully enclosed. While we were there, Major came to lay in the shade of the deck while we ate lunch together. He was perfectly content while everyone was sitting on the deck with him, but when we got up and began meandering about, he didn’t want to be left out.

I sent him down the stairs so he could walk around to where the kids had run off to. He lumbered down them and turn around and came right back. I thought he was coming to double check for any dropped crumbs from the table before I finished clearing it off. He did, but after he discovered that all the food had been eaten or properly put away, he gave up and began sniffing elsewhere. This activity took him to the edge of the deck, the side with no stairs. He sniffed. He turned his heads toward the kids around the edge of the house. And I knew he was going to jump. The big dummy.

He jumped down into the yard from the deck, no stairs. The drop was taller than me.

Of course, he limped a bit when he landed, but otherwise seemed just fine. We loaded him in the car and headed home. He was doing okay until he gave up on our stairs and had to be carried down them last night. This morning I took him to the vet. He has a sprained knee and the vet gave us some pain pills for him.

I explained the whole scenario to the vet. He said that when he was young, he and his cousins used to jump off the top of his grandmother’s chicken coop. It was a tall coop, but they never once got hurt. If he tried to make that same jump today, he’d be in pain for days, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be tempted. It seems my dog fell to the temptation, in more ways than one.

He’s a male, through and through. He refuses to accept that he’s getting older and still does things that his puppy self could easily accomplish, but that are harder on him now than they used to be. When he was younger, he could take a running start and jump our back fence. It’s six feet tall too. He hasn’t made the jump in years, mostly because he knows the food is on this side, but he was apparently still convinced he could.

Men.

In any case, he has some pain pills to help him through the soreness and has been put on exercise restrictions for the next week. No stairs. No jumping.

This should go over well.

Wish him (and me) luck. It’s needed.

My Anniversary

There will be only one post from me this week because I’m taking a long weekend. My husband and I will be celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary. We don’t have a ton of things planned since we already took the kids on a cruise in January. That cruise was our gift to each other, and the lion’s share of Christmas gifts for the kids. But still, we’re going to spend some time together and even see the new Avengers movie. I promise not to post spoilers.

My husband and I met when we in our Freshman year of college. We were just nineteen years old at the time. We’d only be dating for six months when he proposed. But we didn’t get married until after graduation. I had made a promise to my father that I would finish school before getting married, and I kept that promise. We graduated together in December of 2008 and got married in April of 2009. He was working in public accounting at the time so we had to wait until April to have a chance at the time off and a honeymoon.

A decade later our life together looks a little different. Not every day is easy, but all of them are worth it. The day I married him, I didn’t think it was possible to love him more than I already did. But now we have two kids together and I love him a little more every time I see him being a great dad to our children.

We dated for six months. We were engaged for four years. We’ve been married for ten years. It’s been almost a decade and a half since this relationship started. It hasn’t all been easy, but it’s all been worth it.

So this week, I’m taking a little time off to celebrate. Matthew Broderick as Ferris Bueller famously stated that “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Life does indeed move fast, so my husband and I are going to stop and look around a little this week. We have a great life together. I’d hate to miss it.

Spring!

Spring officially started last month on the calendar, but it was just an arbitrary day. Now, however, the severe weather pattern has begun and everything has actually turned green and bloomed. Now spring is actually here.

Fields of wildflowers. A canopy of green trees. Warm sunshine that burns away the weight on my spirit. Spring is here.

I actually really love winter. So many celebrations and good excuses to curl up under a blanket. It can be stressful, too, but so can a lot of other things throughout the year. But, wow, there is something about spring that makes me feel like I can breathe again–which is ironic considering my seasonal allergies.

Spring also brings with it other things I enjoy. My son started his first season of baseball. This week he played in his first game. He had an absolute blast. I’m always so careful not to push him into things just because I like them, but when he asks to try something new I try not to say no if we can afford it. He gets so excited about every practice and this week, you couldn’t wipe the smile off his face when the game ended. Trying to get him calm enough to go to bed after that was a lost cause, but it was worth it to see the joy exuding from his whole body. I hope it remains just as fun and exciting by the end of the season in June.

Warmer weather–that will be unbearably hot soon enough, but we’ll enjoy it while it lasts–also means more afternoons at the park, trips out to the lake, picnics in the sunshine, grilling out, lightning bugs, and all the gorgeous colors nature has to offer.

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Spring is most definitely here.