By Judy Reiss
For me, the beginning of spring always started on Memorial Day. When I was young, it started when I was a Brownie scout, and I had to march in a huge Memorial Day parade. I marched when I was a Girl Scout and when I played in the school band. And back then, no one was excused, period. If you happened to not show up, you had to bring your death certificate when school started again. Of course, we also celebrated this holiday in other ways, too. We put flags on all the graves of those we knew were veterans and believe me, we had to listen to all the speeches after the parade. I can almost see the girl Ruth (I won’t tell you her last name, just in case) who read the poem The Blue and the Grey year after year.
The smell of citronella still brings back memories of Memorial Day and the fireworks at night. And the smell of hot dogs and hamburgers still bring back that old citronella smell. I loved Memorial Day and knew that it would only be a few weeks until the best of all, the Fourth of July! Although we learned a lot about Memorial Day, the Fourth of July was the biggest event of all. After Memorial Day, we all knew that we had to study hard and learn all about how our country was born. Although I have never been good with dates, even I knew as a little girl all about 1776 and how the patriots in our infant country fought for independence from England and created a new nation under God, and that the Fourth of July meant more to all of us than fireworks and food! Memorial Day was a time to remember and honor those who had fought to allow us to live and enjoy ourselves the way our founding fathers wanted us to be able to do.
So, back when I was young, Memorial Day and the Fourth were major holidays. We all had the time off school, our parents were given the days off work and we had to be sure and shop for food and necessities the day before because on The Day, all stores were closed. These were days that were to be celebrated and to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice so we could live free.
This year, 2015, I was watching the memorial concert in Washington when my 17-year-old grandson came home. Because I was all emotional from watching the concert, I asked him what he knew about Memorial Day. I was really shocked when he said, “Well, I know, we don’t get the day off from school!” Of course, I couldn’t let it go. First, I was also surprised that they had to go to school but I also wanted to know what he actually knew and why should anyone get the day off? As an aside, I have to tell you that this boy is an excellent student, but I was appalled when he told me that he knew nothing about Memorial Day except we didn’t get mail that day and that most of his friends had the day off.
Again, I just couldn’t let it go. I asked him about elementary school and middle school and what had they been taught then. And again, he said nothing.
The very next day I continued to ask people and not just children or young people either. And none of them knew anything! I know that the only thing people are going to know for sure is that the Fourth of July is a great day for parades, fireworks, picnics and time to get drunk, and I don’t think it is all their fault either. What happened to teaching about our county’s history or civics? I know that teaching photography or gardening is more fun and probably more “today” subjects, and I am sure they aren’t boring at all but maybe that is the reason we are behind even Bangladesh scholastically!
Come on! This is our country and our own history, wouldn’t it be nice if our children knew what was what? I am not asking anyone to sing our national anthem, which I agree is too difficult to sing. But I do think that everyone who lives in the United States of America should, at the very least, know why we celebrate Independence Day on the 4th of July. And everyone should know that Memorial Day is time to honor and reflect on all those who have given their lives to keep us free. Or, maybe I am just old!