When I was little, I remember grownups talking about “Decoration Day” around the time of the Memorial Day holiday. I knew the holiday was significant because it honored our soldiers who had died in wars; I had a vague idea that the holiday was somehow connected with the Civil War.
My mother and grandmother liked to refer to the Civil War as the War Between the States or (my particuar favorite) The Late Unpleasantness, because they said there was nothing “civil” about it. They were not really joking; my mom was the descendant of “Rebel George” Falkner on her father’s side, and both women were continually aghast at the atrocities heaped upon Southerners by Union troops, particularly those under Sherman’s command in Georgia. There wasn’t a prejudiced bone in either of their bodies—it’s from them that I learned not to harbor racial prejudice—but they were, at the same time, proud of their Southern heritage.
A few years ago I did some Internet research about “Decoration Day” because the phrase was sticking in my mind. What I found out was that the holiday that we know as Memorial Day likely began in the South:
“Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. There is also evidence that organized women's groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War: a hymn published in 1867, ‘Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping’ by Nella L. Sweet carried the dedication ‘To The Ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead.’”
The earliest grave decorations may well have been flowers of the magnolia tree, Magnolia grandiflora. These huge, fragrant flowers were favorites of my grandmother; my mom used to tell a story about stealing them from a neighbor’s yard to give to her mother, and then having to confess what she’d done.
Here, above, are a couple of giant magnolia flowers in remembrance of Rebel George, my Uncle Kenneth on my father's side of the family, and all who have given their lives for our country.
May we soon reach a day when war will be forever over!