Memorial Day — or Decoration Day, as it was originally called — began shortly after the end of the Civil War. It was a way to pay respect to those who had lost their lives in that bloody conflict. Eventually, it grew as a way to honor those who died in any of our nation’s wars.
Like many of you probably do, I head out to local cemeteries on Memorial Day weekend. Ok, I go much more often than just that weekend, but the trip to cemeteries is a key event in my Memorial Day activities.
Gerald Ridenour was from my mom’s hometown. He enlisted in the Army and served in the Army Air Forces. He died in the line of duty in October 1943. His body was brought back to Perry County, Ohio for burial.
Mom was still in school at the time. She remembers that the entire school — and almost all of the town — went to his funeral. “I remember that he was wearing his uniform,” she told me on our visit to Highland Cemetery yesterday.
“At the end of the service at the cemetery, there was someone at the bottom of the hill playing Taps. None of us could see him. It’s something that I’ll never forget for as long as I live.”
Gerald V. Ridenour tombstone, Highland Cemetery, Glenford, Perry County, Ohio. Photo by Amy Johnson Crow, 23 May 2015.
Gerald Ridenour isn’t related to me, but his funeral is such a vivid memory for my mom, that he almost feels like it.
Sometime this weekend, please pause for a moment and consider the real reason we observe Memorial Day.
I grew up in a fairly-typical three-bedroom, post-WWII era house on the east side of Columbus. It wasn’t spacious, but it was comfortable. It was a wonderful house to grow up in. It lacked one thing, however: a fireplace.
(It also didn’t have a basement, which made me very nervous during tornado warnings, but that’s a story for another day.)
It was the lack of a fireplace that could have spelled disaster at Christmas. Songs and Clement Moore’s “A Visit From St. Nicholas” all talk about Santa landing on the roof and sliding down the chimney. How does Santa do that if the house doesn’t have a fireplace?!
Christmas Eve 1970 reading “A Visit from St. Nicholas” in front of the magical cardboard fireplace.
Fortunately, my parents are very smart people. It wasn’t practical to build a fireplace, so they did the next-best thing: they got a magical cardboard fireplace. It had a mantle, logs, a “fire,” and — most importantly — a chimney. Somehow, that cardboard tube that didn’t connect to the outside gave Santa an entryway into the house. It was brilliant.
Years went by and the magical cardboard fireplace started showing the effects of time. The flames didn’t flame quite as high; the mantle started to sag. Eventually, it was time to retire those pieces of red cardboard. Now what would Santa do?!
Santa, like my parents, is smart. He knew that our house required an alternate means of entry. When he saw that the magical cardboard fireplace was gone, he did the logical thing… He came in through the front door.
Merry Christmas, everyone!