“Why?” I asked.
“It’s Memorial Day.”
Having served my time in the Army, I’m accustomed to obeying my commanding officer, usually without questioning why, so I put the flag out in its holder, between the door and the climbing rose bush, on which it sometimes is snagged.
A thought occurred.
“It’s Friday,” I said when I came in.
“What’s Friday?” she asked.
“Memorial Day?” I said. That’s May 30th.”
“It’s been changed,” she said.
“When? By whom?"
No answer. She sat down on the couch and called the cat over to sleep in her lap.
Finally I had stumped her. But where did she get that idea, I wondered
I fired up the computer, typed “Memorial Day changed?” in the Google box, then clicked to Wikipedia. Sure enough, Congress changed the date to the last Monday in May. In 1971.
Why hadn't I noticed that? Married only nine months, was I still in the goofy delirium of the honeymoon? Why didn't I catch on to the change in some subsequent year? Maybe because I was a university professor and the spring semester was over before the end of May. I was waking up every morning to the tune of that old music hall ditty “Every Day’s a holiday with me.”
But it’s not just Memorial Day that's been re-dated, I learned. Our hard-working Congressmen and women have praised famous men by ignoring their birthdays to give this great nation of ours four richly deserved three-day holidays each year. We've been celebrating Martin Luther King’s birthday in January, though not necessarily on the 15th. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are paired on the same Monday in February, but on neither one’s birthday, necessarily, and Christopher Columbus we honor in October, but not always on the 9th, his birthday, as we once did for celebrating his discovery of this land. Ignored, however, is the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, for whom this land is named. Celebrating his birthday, April 9, would give all of us another three-day holiday, the third month in a row.
Not content with those changes, our patriotic lawmakers up and renamed Armistice Day, the anniversary of the end of World War I (at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918), to Veterans’ Day, though they kept it on November 11. As a veteran, I don’t mind being honored or remembered or whatever is supposed to be done for us veterans on that day, but couldn't the holiday makers find a day other than Armistice Day to do it? I suggest April 24, the anniversary of my discharge from the Regular Army.
To their credit, the legislators didn't mess with Independence Day, the 4th of July.
And, if I remember correctly—cut an aging gent some slack here—Labor Day has been the first Monday in September since it was instituted more than a century ago—a sop thrown to working men while Pullman, Rockefeller, Carnegie and other plutocrats were working them to early deaths at subsistence wages and reclaiming that pittance at the company stores.
Back to Memorial Day. It was instituted after the Civil War by General John Logan to honor the dead of the Union forces. Then we went and got ourselves involved in all kinds of adventures around the world, most of them we shouldn't have been in: the war with Spain in Cuba and the Philippines, the First World War, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan (I’d except WW II and Korea from the list). We piled the bodies high and included in our memorializing all of the young Americans killed in those wars. Congress even got around to including the Confederate dead, though the 13 states of the Confederacy still have separate days to honor them. But north and south, we now put out the flags on the last Monday of May.
So ours is out front today, gently waving in the breeze.
But I’m going to put it out again on Friday, May 30th.
I'm designating that Cantankerous Old Man’s Memorial Day.