Memorial Day has an interesting history. When first established in 1868, it was called Decoration Day. Other communities had similar observations in the north and south to honor those who perished during the Civil War. By the 20th century, the date of the last Monday in May was designated as Memorial Day.
But there was an earlier tradition. Many towns and villages, particularly in rural areas, would designate a day in the spring or summer to remember those who had died. They often gathered at the local cemetery for what we would call a family reunion. A Gospel sing, church service, and dinner on the ground were common features.
This was not just a time to put flowers on a grave; it became a time when generations learned of their heritage and history. The old folks would tell stories, many of them never written down. Many of those oral histories were lost because they were never recorded. The value of having older generations pass along wit and wisdom to the younger ones was beyond measure. It was a way to know who “my people” came from.
In our information-loaded world, we can turn to online services to trace our ancestry, but too often the stories of our people fade with time. Today it would be so easy to sit down with the oldest people in your life and say “tell me a story.” With the use of a smart phone or a video camera, you can capture memories. I treasure a video tape my brothers and I have of an interview with our parents. We learned generational stories but also came to know our folks as children, youth, and young adults. I am so glad we took action when we did. The ravages of Alzheimer’s were beginning to take a heavy toll on our dad.
Don’t wait too long to say to someone you love: “Tell me a story.”