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A Backward Glance at Decoration Day…Now Called Memorial Day

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Growing up in Indiana, I was always excited about Memorial Day Weekend.  I didn’t exactly understand what the holiday celebrated, but I knew that it was finally warm enough for everyone to open their pools and that there would be a family cookout where I could see my cousins and other relatives.  And of course, the big race, the Indianapolis 500 would be on TV.

As I grew older, my mother began taking me with her to Rice Cemetery on the Saturday before Memorial Day.  We would rake and clean the winter debris off the graves of family members and plant new flowers or leave an artificial arrangement.   While we worked, I would stop and look out across the very large cemetery and see people tidying the grave sites of their loved ones.  When we finished our task, my mother would stand back and say, “I sure do miss them.”

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After I became an adult and more family members had passed on, our annual trek involved visits to two cemeteries in my hometown.  My grandmother, my mother’s mother, died in November of 2001.  The following Memorial Day Weekend my mother and I went to plant flowers on her grave.  When we got there, we found a big chunk of firewood right in front of her headstone.  My mother fussed, “Now who would put that on someone’s grave” and she promptly threw it into the closest trash can.  Later, at the family cookout, she was complaining to my brother about finding that big piece of firewood on her mother’s grave.

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My brother broke into a big smile and said, “I put that there.”  My mother was speechless for a moment before she asked him why in the world he would do that.  “Well,” he said, “I always told grandma I would make sure she had firewood for her wood burning stove in the winter.  I put that firewood on her grave when the weather turned cold.  I’m still keeping my promise to her.”

While today we remember all of our loved ones who have died, Decoration Day or Memorial Day was originally created to remember and honor those who died in military service to our country.  It was renamed “Memorial Day” and declared a federal holiday in 1967, but its origins and customs go all the way back to the American Civil War.

The Civil War lasted for four years, from 1861 – 1865, and during this time over 600,000 men from both sides were killed in combat.  Women, in the north and in the south, began spontaneously decorating the graves of their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons as a way to honor their ultimate sacrifice to our country…and as a way of expressing their own grief.

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In 1868, General John A. Logan, Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, declared that “Decoration Day” would be observed every May 30th to commemorate all of the soldiers who died in the Civil War.  That first Decoration Day, the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D. C. were decorated with flowers and wreaths.  This year on Memorial Day, over 250,000 small American flags will be placed on veteran’s graves at Arlington National Cemetery.

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After World War I, Decoration Day was expanded to honor and decorate the graves of those who have died in all American wars.   In 1968, Congress changed Memorial Day from May 30th to the last Monday in May so that people might have a three day holiday weekend.

In the year 2000, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act.  Signed by President Bill Clinton, this established a moment for all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3:00 p.m. on Memorial Day and remember the sacrifices made by the men and women who have died in service to our nation.

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So who will you remember this Memorial Day and how will you remember them?  Will you take flowers to the cemetery?  Will you fly your flag in remembrance of all who died serving our country?  Will you make a beloved family member’s favorite recipe?  Will you tell your children stories about the family members you miss?  Will you watch old family videos of them?

For me, I think I will look at pictures of those I miss so very much.  And on Monday at 3:00 I’m going to stop for a moment and say a prayer and be thankful for their lives…especially the life of my brother, Stephen Jeffrey Bolinger, who died way too soon and only five years after he put that firewood on our grandmother’s grave.

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Buttons in a whole new light

When you get dressed each morning, I bet you don’t think much about the buttons on your clothing unless one has fallen off and you have to replace it.  But buttons carry a unique and varied history and also reflect the economic and cultural history of the time they were made.

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The Victorian era in history describes the reign of Queen Victoria of England during the years from 1837 until her death in 1901.  She married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield in 1840 and together they had nine children.  She loved him very much and when Prince Albert died in 1861 at the too young age of 42, Queen Victoria went into a deep period of mourning that lasted for the rest of her life.

Black glass, round and pear-shaped, buttons was made for the masses because of the queen’s use of black jet mourning buttons on her clothing after Albert died.  These were the most popular buttons of the 19th Century, not just in England but around the world.

Black jet mourning buttons

Painting of black jet mourning buttons by Vicki Guess

One of the more interesting buttons popular during the Victorian age was the “perfume” button.  Since perfumes during Victorian times were oil-based and could stain the fabric of a woman’s dress when worn on the skin, the fragrance was put on the buttons instead.  These buttons contained cotton, wool, flannel or velvet swatches of fabric that were moistened with a woman’s fragrance.  Over the fabric was an ornate brass overlay with decorative openings to allow the scent to escape.

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It is said, that women would remove a perfumed button and give one to their husbands or loves as a token of their affection when they went off to fight in the Civil War.  Many men kept these perfumed buttons in their uniform pocket or sewn under their collars while they fought, as a reminder of the women waiting for them at home. Some even said having the perfumed button as a reminder helped them survive during the time they were away.

Another button you may not have heard about is the “smuggler’s” button.  This was a dome-shaped button that was hollow inside and had a twist off top.  These buttons could be used to hide and smuggle things such as precious gems, notes and even poison.  It sounds a bit 007 to me, but it is said that soldiers may have used them to store poison for their personal use in the event that they were captured and tortured.

Victorian charm strings…also called love strings or memory strings… were popular from the 1860’s until about 1900.  These were one-of-a-kind button collections sewn and tied into a long strand by a young girl.

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Picture of a Victorian charm string is from allisadornments.com

A string was started by using a needle and attaching a large button on the end of a very long string.  The custom went that if a girl could collect 999 different buttons, her true love would bring her the 1000th one.

The rules were that the buttons could not be bought but rather should be gotten as gifts and through trades with other collectors.  Only the prettiest and most unique buttons were supposed to be used for the charm strings.  The strings were either worn or kept out as a conversation piece for visitors in hopes that visitors might contribute a button to the collection.

One piece I read said that young women used their need for buttons for their charm strings as an excuse to to talk with young men and ask them if they had a button they could spare!  Sadly, most charm strings were never finished because 999 beautiful and unique buttons are a lot to collect!

If you have an old button box in your family, pull it out and take a look through it.  You never know what kind of treasures you might find!

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Happy Mother’s Day!

God could not be everywhere, and therefore he made mothers. ~Rudyard Kipling

Motherhood:  All love begins and ends there. ~Robert Browning

A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie. ~Tenneva Jordan

We have a Robin’s nest in the Live Oak Tree in front of our house.  I know this because every time one of us stands near the tree, the mother bird hovers on a branch beside the nest watching over her eggs.  And isn’t that what we do as human mothers?  We provide a nest, give birth, and then we hover close by and support and protect until they are ready to go it on their own.

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If there was an honest job description for motherhood, it would probably say “it’s the most thankless AND personally gratifying job on Earth”.  I’ve been a mother for 27 years…thank you Matthew, Ryan, Anna and now my step-daughter, Morgan…and I don’t believe I truly appreciated my own mother until I became a mother too.  It’s easy to blame mothers for things because they are usually the closest and easiest targets.  Then, when you become a parent and are doing the same things your mother did, you suddenly get it.

Our children

When my kids were small, I loved reading a book to them by P.D. Eastman called Are You My Mother?  A baby bird hatches from an egg in a nest and the mama bird has gone to find him some food.  He doesn’t know what his mother looks like but he goes in search of her because he knows he needs his mother.

“Are you my mother?” he said to the cow.  “How could I be your mother?” said the cow.  “I am a cow.”  The kitten and the hen were not his mother.  The dog and the cow were not his mother.  Did he have a mother?

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We all have mothers, and this Sunday is Mother’s Day…a day honoring mothers, motherhood and the influence of mothers in our society.  In the early 1900’s, Anna Jarvis from West Virginia, campaigned to establish a day to recognize mothers because as she said, your mother is “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world”.  Jarvis wanted people to express their love and appreciation for their mothers by writing them a personal letter.

In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday in May a national day to honor mothers which makes this year the 100th anniversary of Mother’s Day.  In the early years of Mother’s Day celebrations, Americans were asked to fly their flags “as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country”.

President William McKinley established the tradition of wearing carnations on Mother’s Day…pink or red to honor a living mother and white in memory of a mother who has passed.  The modern traditions most closely connected to Mother’s Day are going to church, giving mothers flowers and other gifts, and having family dinners.

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Some of us will spend the day with our mothers and with our children.  Some are new mothers and this will be that special, first Mother’s Day for them.  For some, the day will be difficult because you no longer have your mother here with you and you will long to hear her voice and talk with her.

Hopefully, whether you are physically with your mother or not, you can find a way to show your love for her.  I have a box of things I keep that were given to me by my children.  It is filled with cards, pictures and hand written notes and letters from my 27 years of Mother’s Days.  I hope I get to add to it this year.

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Happy Mother’s Day.  I hope you have the best day ever.  I love you a million gazillion!

~2004 handmade card from Anna Sever

Mom…Lots of people want you to be their mother. Lucky for me (with me crossed out) both of us, you’re MY mother.  Happy Motherz Day!

~2003 handmade card from Ryan Sever

Protecting the world from Dust Bunnies, Temper Tantrums and Late Homework…And most importantly, providing love and affection for her family…It’s Super Mom!  Happy Mother’s Day!

~2003 handmade card from Matthew Sever (with a Matt Mark stamp on the back)

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms and especially to MY mom!

 

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