May Day and Decoration Day
The first day of May, "MAY DAY", had a much better meaning sixty/seventy years ago. The Russian bear had not been yet let loose on our country in a menacing way. Oh, they tried to take away the tranquil approach to the coming of spring. They were soon parading in Red Square in their military might, with weapons of war and rattling of sabers. Recent activities by illegal aliens are again tarnishing the day. The United States has chosen quickly and naively to distance itself from the date of a grand tradition.
Yes, traditionally, May Day once celebrated the return of the robins to western Illinois and the end of the cold months of winter. When the first robin was sighted in the yard, Mom would load us kids into the car, and off we would head to Keokuk to be treated to a Dairy Queen ice cream cone. That old stand is still there where it has stood these many years, straight out Main Street to where the edge of town used to be.
More important though, May Day was a time of preparations. We would head up the narrow steps to the attic, and looking around in the piles of dusty ancient Wells history, come up with a few rolls of leftover wallpaper from the many applications the walls and ceilings below had received over the years.
That paper in its many designs was then cut, folded, shaped, and glued into baskets of rectangles and cones, each fitted with a suitable handle. No shape was outlawed, but convention soon spoke and most were of the cone shape, best suited for its new purpose.
Next, the flower beds around the yard, including those at the front porch and the rock garden hillside were scoured for any and all blooms. The wild flowers became a part of the bouquet, as did the iris that bloomed in the ditches all around the house and the apple, pear, cherry, and plum trees each surrendered some fragrant blossoms.
Each May basket was loaded with its quota of blossoms. It depended on the wiles of the weather. Some years there was a bumper crop, while other years we depended on the ever abundant dandelions.
When all was ready, we would head out across the neighborhood, attaching a basket of colorful flowers to each and every front door. A quick rap, and away we scampered so as not to be caught in our moment of joy.
Now doesn't that sound a lot better than the rumbles of war? The Russians were successful, as the press picked up on their nonsense and suddenly we, the children of America were denied one of the meaningful parts of childhood. May Day was no longer ours. My mother would often fret about the way the Nazis also stole a part of American Indian history when they took over the Navaho symbol, reversed it, and made it into a symbol of hate. Will the bullies of the world ever learn to leave the possessions of the indefensible alone.
On May Day make a basket, and return to the good ole days; if but for a moment.
I still haven't got past the government changing the date of Decoration Day, (now known as Memorial Day). The actual date is May 30th. At least the date of Christmas hasn't been changed.
In Hamilton we had ceremonies at two cemeteries. The order was switched each year. It was an event to dress up for. For several days prior, the town's people would bring flowers from their gardens to the City Hall. Those many flowers were sorted, arranged into bouquets and taken by the scouts to the graves, which were decorated. American flags were also placed at every veteran's grave.
On Decoration Day everyone assembled at the first cemetery and a service was held. The high school band would perform the national anthem and other appropriate music with one of the ministers giving a memorial sermon. Then the American Legion firing squad would fire three volleys followed by taps.
After the ceremony was completed there would be a mad scramble by us kids to pick up the spent shell casings. Sometimes we would be lucky and find one that had misfired. Then the people involved would drive to the other cemetery and the whole process would be repeated.
When I was older, I was a member of the band and proud to be taking a part in the remembrance. School was already out for the summer, so it was an honor to return for this performance. I wouldn't doubt one bit that something similar is still being observed in Hamilton.
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