We spent our first Memorial Day week-end in Harlan 40 years ago, in 1969. We were surprised at the large number of cars that arrived that week-end bearing license plates from Michigan, Ohio and other states.
We spent our first Memorial Day week-end in Harlan 40 years ago, in 1969. We were surprised at the large number of cars that arrived that week-end bearing license plates from Michigan, Ohio and other states. We learned that those cars carried people returning home to remember family and loved ones who had died. Many of these people had traveled hundreds of miles just to spend a few hours here in Harlan County because this day was an important part of their lives and they wanted and needed to be here.
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Many people claim to be the founder of Decoration Day or Memorial Day in our country; there are early poems and introductions to songs to prove that people for many years have gone to cemeteries to honor our fallen soldiers, remembering those who have died in our nation’s service. As a child, I remember May 30th as a serious day of remembrance and red poppies were worn to show our respect. I am saddened that respect for those who have sacrificed on our behalf has diminished in today’s world.
Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868, by General John Logan and was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Civil War soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery. The word “memorial” means to remember. As human beings we are prone to forget things, even important things, and even if we remember them during our lifetime, we forget to tell our children and grandchildren these things in a way that will ensure their remembering them. People remember things better when they are told in story form. Our ancestors for years and years kept truths alive orally through the use of stories.
As we look into church history, we realize that the concept of memorials was introduced to God’s people by God Himself. In fact, the word “memorial” appears32 times in the Bible. In the book of Joshua there is the story of the flowing of the river stopping in order that the people could cross safely into the Promised Land. God instructed one man from each of the twelve tribes to take a rock from the riverbed and form a pile of rocks on the western side of the river. Now, it’s pretty strange that a person would need a pile of rocks to remember that the Jordan River parted to let them go across with the Ark of the Covenant, but you see, the Biblical use of memorials was not for the present generation but for the next generations. God said, “When your children ask, ‘What are these rocks for?’ tell them the story of crossing through the Jordan River.” Then the story is retold in a meaningful manner to those who did not experience the original emotional happening. Every time some one sees the stones, the story is told anew so it won’t be forgotten. If your family has a “touched by an angel” happening or a “let’s never forget this" moment, be sure to place a memorial in your home to keep the story alive and remembered.
In one of our family scrapbooks there is a page committed to two ticket stubs…stubs of tickets to the Sweet 16 Tournament in 1995. I plan to frame them soon and hang them on my wall, because I don’t want to lose this story; I want my grandchildren to hear it and tell it, because it is of great significance to me. Some of them might say, “It was just a coincidence,” but, I believe at least one of them will say, “Wow, God cares about the ‘little things’ in our lives and likes to provide our hearts’ desires.” This scrapbook page is one of the memorials of our family because the tickets represent to me the love and provision of God……much more than a couple of tickets. Anyone who knows us very well will know that one of the important events in our yearly calendar the entire growing up years of our boys was the High School Sweet 16 Basketball Tournament at Rupp Arena. Jerry and the boys would go early in the week, and then often our daughter and I would go on the week-end. This practice continued through their college years, but after John moved to Texas there were sometimes that he could come and other times when he couldn’t. One year when we didn’t know that John could come, he let us know that he could arrive on Saturday. We weren’t expecting him for this one particular game, and we had plans for all of the tickets. Because his visit was to be short, we all wanted to sit together with him. We knew that tickets would be available on the street, but we could be “miles apart” in Rupp. We were going to send Jeffrey and Jimbo out searching for the two extra tickets needed, but while we were eating (Jeffrey had a Harlan Green Dragon hat or shirt on) someone whom he didn’t know yelled, “Hey, Harlan, do you need tickets?” We said, “Yes”, purchased them and felt very lucky to receive tickets so easily. I don’t know how many seats there are in Rupp, but can you imagine the shock and thrill that we felt when we saw that the two purchased tickets were the next two on our row? We could hardly believe our eyes. I want the opportunity to tell that story over and over again, because I recapture the feeling of special provision that I felt that wonderful day.
There are some very special stories that have been told over and over in my hearing about the Wiley family as they raised eleven children during the late 1800s and early 1900s, stories about God’s provisions and help and guidance. I have not done the best job of retelling these stories, partly because when I was young, I didn’t give them proper importance or listen closely enough to all of the details. How I’d love to hear them again, so that I could pass them on. Remembering….memories….memorials.
We must establish ways to help us remember: scrapbooks, framed photographs and letters, including details, lest we forget.
It is inconceivable to me that humans can forget so quickly earth shattering events which changed history or altered life forever. The Holocaust is one of those things that some people today refuse to believe. World War I and World War II, the Korean Conflict and Viet Nam; these are just words to young children today. Help them remember, if these are important to you. Just as puzzling is how quickly we forget wonderful things. These might get bogged down in the “daily ness” of life. If there are special blessings or “coincidences” in your life that are faith-builders or encouragers to your family, make your own “memorial” so that you can tell the story, “When your children ask.”
Note: I plan to take the summer off to visit with my family, read, travel, and rest; my hope is that my column will return in September. I appreciate so much those of you who have been so supportive of my writing. Thank you. God bless. (You can reach Pat Bryson@email@example.com)