The Memorial Day Weekend Thought

On Monday I am going to post a full tribute to Memorial Day and what it represents. I will be posting a vision I had later on today, but honestly, I am just enjoying kicking back a little today.

I sometimes post older pieces. I amazed at the timelessness of some of them. I see how I had “no clue” about the actuality of what I was seeing and how I see it now as it unfolded. And there are somethings, like wine and cheese, that just get better with age. This is one of them. As I put together a teaching and book on gardens and Christ, I found this piece.

leejohndrowteamToday on this Memorial Day, I want you to have time with friends and family, but it is my hope that you will remember those who gave their lives.

I was talking to a new friend at work, from England and somehow God has connected us in this season. He has lived in the USA for 10 years. Yesterday, He asked me why we have Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Memorial Day is for those who have died serving our country. Veterans Day celebrates the living servicemen. (More about this at the bottom of this article.)

I am blessed to be able to spend the weekend with my grandchildren. Over the weekend we have had varying conversations from God, to Memorial Day, to why cheating is not good, can you eat goldfish (the swimming kind) and when can we go hang with the Lanes (friends of ours.). It reminds me of my own childhood.

Unfortunately I also recognize the fragile state of things like our economy, our increasing older population and the immensity of change upon so many. Many of us could cite what we are doing to help ourselves and others. But what about when we are not there. I realize that if your belief schedule is it does not matter that is OK. But what about the ultimate signs of love to see upcoming generation better off than we were?

I have made a decision in my life not just to do something for me and this generation I live in, but to do something that goes beyond. I view my life as cog in the wheel for my family and the generations to come. How I influence my children or my grandchildren will determine how they influence their community and friends. Is it easy? Of course not! I often have to unravel the beliefs or the mistakes I made and instilled in them at a younger age. Trust me there was one or two.

I have had to weed the garden of my own parents legacy to me. I overcame alcoholism and drug addiction to get here. I went through two marriages before I got it “right.” I had to decide what my moral compass was set on. I had to stop being selfish and self centered.(Which meant I had to subsequently unravel some 12 step ideas.) I had to start determining how to make changes that would benefit others.

I had to start tending the garden of values that my parents and others had given me.

My parents taught me a lot. My mom was a teacher. My dad was management in a large architectural hardware company. My mom taught me to always do research. To never give up. To enjoy challenges and to seek them. To stand up for the rights of others. To embrace history and to seek change. My dad taught me sports. He taught me to shoot. How to fix cars. Why being in the military was important. How to use tools and make things. The essence of working hard. And the importance of friends.

I learned from some of my neighbors as a child.

  • Mr. Montgomery taught me the importance of technology.(He was a successful computer guy in the 70’s.)
  • Mr. Harrison taught me about collecting and woodworking. (My wife is not happy about the collecting thing!)
  • Mr. Arbuckle taught me about animals and farming and growing crops. He taught me how to dig a well. (I think I got suckered on that!)
  • Mr. King taught me respect for others and the need to be prepared. (He also helped me get unstuck from a culvert I had crawled into.

I learned from some teachers(though unfortunately only a few…)

  • Mrs. Clapp taught me the value of others.
  • Mrs. Case taught me it was OK to color outside the lines.
  • Mr. Wilcox taught me that girls had a few more redeeming qualities that I might have overlooked.
  • Mr. Griswold taught me it was OK to play rock ‘n roll!

I learned from some co-workers and some bosses.

  • Mr. Merletti taught me to trust my work. (From 10-12 years old pumping gas.)
  • Mr. Eliason taught me the continued values of good work, responsibility and trust.(From 8-10 years old delivering newspapers, collecting and delivering dry cleaning and yard work.)
  • Mr. Gardner taught me to appreciate the details. (Though admittedly, I don’t know how to do them!)

I have learned a lot more from a variety of friends, mentors and even enemies. And I have a huge list to UNLEARN!

So, I am looking at the future to come as a garden. It is a tilling of things from the past. A removal of weeds and rocks of difficulty. A plan for what I want to grow and when I want it to arrive. I am looking at what the harvest will bring and how it will benefit those to come after. (Perhaps even before.) My children and grandchildren are not a project but a garden of love. They will receive value and insight from many, but the core things I am feeling like are on me to get into their gardens. Things like the values of critical thinking (Not being critical!), morality, integrity, honesty and never giving up. Teaching them to give to others. To be kind and helpful. Oh some of those things will come from others, but like any garden one must decide what is important and determine to sow it.

And probably the most important thing I work on is teaching that it is OK to have fun. Something that when the times get tough is in short supply. (My grandson’s quote of the week…”Daddy, it will be cooler when we get back because you put the air freshener in!”)

Decide early what it is you would want to see if you could live another 100 years. Another 200. Then begin to plan for it. Want a great family? A great community? A great state? Begin now. Think you blew it? It is never too late. Yesterday a man who was part of a church I lead showed up in our church gathering. I had not seen him for a long time. It was a reminder of how much people can mean to someone. I shared a little with him about what it meant for him to be in my life nearly 20 years ago. The best tribute I can give him would be to take what he gave me and pass it on. He was over 50 when he began to sow into my life.

“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.”
―Shannon L. Alder

In his book Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, Professor David W. Blight made the case for Charleston, South Carolina, as Memorial Day’s birthplace, as that city was the site of an obscure (possibly suppressed) May 1865 event held at a racetrack turned war prison, during which freedmen properly reburied hundreds of Union dead found there and then held a ceremony to dedicate the cemetery:

African Americans founded Decoration Day at the graveyard of 257 Union soldiers labeled “Martyrs of the Race Course,” May 1, 1865, Charleston, South Carolina.

The “First Decoration Day,” as this event came to be recognized in some circles in the North, involved an estimated ten thousand people, most of them black former slaves. During April, twenty-eight black men from one of the local churches built a suitable enclosure for the burial ground at the Race Course. In some ten days, they constructed a fence ten feet high, enclosing the burial ground, and landscaped the graves into neat rows. The wooden fence was whitewashed and an archway was built over the gate to the enclosure. On the arch, painted in black letters, the workmen inscribed “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

At nine o’clock in the morning on May 1, the procession to this special cemetery began as three thousand black schoolchildren (newly enrolled in freedmen’s schools) marched around the Race Course, each with an armload of roses and singing “John Brown’s Body.” The children were followed by three hundred black women representing the Patriotic Association, a group organized to distribute clothing and other goods among the freedpeople. The women carried baskets of flowers, wreaths, and crosses to the burial ground. The Mutual Aid Society, a benevolent association of black men, next marched in cadence around the track and into the cemetery, followed by large crowds of white and black citizens.

All dropped their spring blossoms on the graves in a scene recorded by a newspaper correspondent: “when all had left, the holy mounds — the tops, the sides, and the spaces between them — were one mass of flowers, not a speck of earth could be seen; and as the breeze wafted the sweet perfumes from them, outside and beyond … there were few eyes among those who knew the meaning of the ceremony that were not dim with tears of joy.” While the adults marched around the graves, the children were gathered in a nearby grove, where they sang “America,” “We’ll Rally Around the Flag,” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The official dedication ceremony was conducted by the ministers of all the black churches in Charleston. With prayer, the reading of biblical passages, and the singing of spirituals, black Charlestonians gave birth to an American tradition. In so doing, they declared the meaning of the war in the most public way possible — by their labor, their words, their songs, and their solemn parade of roses, lilacs, and marching feet on the old planters’ Race Course.

After the dedication, the crowds gathered at the Race Course grandstand to hear some thirty speeches by Union officers, local black ministers, and abolitionist missionaries. Picnics ensued around the grounds, and in the afternoon, a full brigade of Union infantry, including Colored Troops, marched in double column around the martyrs’ graves and held a drill on the infield of the Race Course. The war was over, and Memorial Day had been founded by African Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration.

Although contemporaneous accounts from the Charleston Daily Courier describe and document the 1865 ceremony that took place there, and the event was one the earliest known observances similar to what we would now recognize as Memorial Day, whether it was truly the first such ceremony, and what influence (if any) it might have had on later observances, are still matters of contention. Professor Blight termed it “the first Memorial Day” because it predated most of the other contenders, but he noted he has no evidence that it led to General Logan’s call for a national holiday in 1868: “I’m much more interested in the meaning that’s being conveyed in that incredible ritual than who’s first,” he said.

In his book Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, Professor David W. Blight made the case for Charleston, South Carolina, as Memorial Day’s birthplace, as that city was the site of an obscure (possibly suppressed) May 1865 event held at a racetrack turned war prison, during which freedmen properly reburied hundreds of Union dead found there and then held a ceremony to dedicate the cemetery:

African Americans founded Decoration Day at the graveyard of 257 Union soldiers labeled “Martyrs of the Race Course,” May 1, 1865, Charleston, South Carolina.

The “First Decoration Day,” as this event came to be recognized in some circles in the North, involved an estimated ten thousand people, most of them black former slaves. During April, twenty-eight black men from one of the local churches built a suitable enclosure for the burial ground at the Race Course. In some ten days, they constructed a fence ten feet high, enclosing the burial ground, and landscaped the graves into neat rows. The wooden fence was whitewashed and an archway was built over the gate to the enclosure. On the arch, painted in black letters, the workmen inscribed “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

At nine o’clock in the morning on May 1, the procession to this special cemetery began as three thousand black schoolchildren (newly enrolled in freedmen’s schools) marched around the Race Course, each with an armload of roses and singing “John Brown’s Body.” The children were followed by three hundred black women representing the Patriotic

Association, a group organized to distribute clothing and other goods among the freedpeople. The women carried baskets of flowers, wreaths, and crosses to the burial ground. The Mutual Aid Society, a benevolent association of black men, next marched in cadence around the track and into the cemetery, followed by large crowds of white and black citizens.

All dropped their spring blossoms on the graves in a scene recorded by a newspaper correspondent: “when all had left, the holy mounds — the tops, the sides, and the spaces between them — were one mass of flowers, not a speck of earth could be seen; and as the breeze wafted the sweet perfumes from them, outside and beyond … there were few eyes among those who knew the meaning of the ceremony that were not dim with tears of joy.” While the adults marched around the graves, the children were gathered in a nearby grove, where they sang “America,” “We’ll Rally Around the Flag,” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The official dedication ceremony was conducted by the ministers of all the black churches in Charleston. With prayer, the reading of biblical passages, and the singing of spirituals, black Charlestonians gave birth to an American tradition. In so doing, they declared the meaning of the war in the most public way possible — by their labor, their words, their songs, and their solemn parade of roses, lilacs, and marching feet on the old planters’ Race Course.

Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory

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Written by Lee Johndrow

Lee Johndrow

Lee is on staff as the Prophetic Ministry Leader at the Village Church where he functions as one of the prophetic grace. (You can visit their site at www.villagechurchswanzey.com)

He is the father of five wonderful children. Married for over 22 years to his wife Tina. 7 grandchildren as of September 22, 2014, with another one on the way! Loving life with family, friends, faith, fun and food!


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