Has Memorial Day become just another three-day holiday weekend in May to the majority of Americans? They may know it’s a day to remember the dead, but why did it get started?
Decoration Day or Memorial Day, as it came to be called, was established in 1868 just after the Civil War, to honor those killed in the war. Estimates have been revised upward concerning the number killed in the Civil War from 620,000 to 750,000, more than have been killed in all American wars combined. Many of those who died were far from home and their bodies buried in unmarked graves. Several places claim they were the first to initiate a Decoration Day to honor the war dead, but it obviously met a national need to honor the memory of the fallen loved ones.
While visiting my second cousin in Marlow, my husband, daughter, the cousin, and I set off to find the Tidwell Cemetery where the Hogue side of the family was buried. I had never been there, but I knew it existed.
I remember my grandparents going to the cemetery a week or two before Decoration Day to “work the graves.” This was a planned event to clean up the cemetery before Decoration Day for everyone whose relatives were buried there. They took garden tools, lawn mowers and flowers, as well as a picnic lunch. It was an all day event, a time for reunion and remembering. Country cemeteries often didn’t have a caretaker, so it was left to the relatives to maintain them. However, as the old folks died and their offspring moved away the inevitable decline set in.
I had found the name of another cousin in the Marlow paper. Tracking her down proved fairly easy and she gave us directions to the cemetery. We set off on the road east of Marlow looking for Bailey. Bailey was the name of the town on my mother’s birth certificate. I was eager to see Bailey. There wasn’t much to see – a water tower, a few houses and a farm store. It had obviously seen better days. We stopped at the farm store to make inquiries. Yes, they had heard of the Tidwell Cemetery. They thought it was over on such and such a road. How do we get there?? They did give us one good clue; it had a sign over the entrance that said Tidwell Cemetery.
We ended up on some dirt roads, but we were determined to find it. I kept looking at the rough terrain, visualizing my grandfather and his brothers and sisters living in the area, riding horses and having adventures. My grandfather told me stories of panthers screaming like a woman, of bobcats in the road, and his father being a deputy marshal going after the bad men. His sister once told me that the kids would go off all day on their horses taking a head of cabbage with a knife for their lunch. My grandfather told me of trying to jump a ditch on his horse and the horse “breasted it.” In other words, it didn’t make it.
Finally, we located the Tidwell Cemetery. It was overgrown with trees and brush until it was impossible to tell where a grave began or ended. Small limestone markers had fallen over or were so eroded they couldn’t be read. Fortunately, some of the relatives had kept the family plot fenced and cleared so the stones were upright and easily read. I found Granny Hogue’s marker and those of my great, great grandparents. I never knew them, but recognized their names. There was the stone of my grandfather’s brother Jonas, who died as a young man. I recalled how Granny raised twelve children by herself after her husband died, birthing her last child after his death.
I suddenly felt linked to my ancestors who pioneered into Indian Territory, cleared land, farmed, raised cattle, built homes and had children. They persevered in spite of death, hardships, and not much money, but with a strong determination to succeed and a firm trust in God. I was overcome with a sadness I didn’t understand. They were gone and I missed them.
I wonder what kind of legacy I am leaving. Is it one of determination, courage, and faith in God? I pray my descendants will be inspired to overcome their trials and forge good paths for their offspring to walk in.
Memorial Day is more than a three-day weekend in May. It’s a day set aside to remember our loved ones and those who have fallen in war. Without our memories of those who went before us, would we still be the same person?