Boomers Celebrated a Different Memorial Day

Memorial Day was not declared an official national holiday by Congress until 1971. The origins of the day go back to at least 1868, when it was dubbed Decoration Day; it was a holiday set aside to honor Union soldiers who lost their lives while serving in the Civil War. From its earliest inception, the day was meant for the solemn remembrance of military war dead.

Depending on where boomers lived, they might have had very different experiences regarding Memorial Day in their youth. Not every state marked the occasion, and those that did, might have had a different focus. As the generation that lived during the Civil War began to dwindle, celebrations of the day changed to include those who died in WWI, then WWII. In 1968, Congress acted to move several holidays to specific Mondays in order to create long weekends; this law passed in 1971, creating the modern Memorial Day weekend we celebrate today.

Mister Boomer lived in a state that marked the day as a state holiday since 1871. In the 1950s, Mister B recalls not only getting a day off from school, but going to his town’s annual Memorial Day parade. It was a day filled with marching bands, American flags, military veterans and politicians. As a young boomer, though, Mister B also remembers the grilled hot dogs supplied by a local veterans’ organization.

Mister Boomer, like practically all boomers, had parents and relatives who served during World War II in various capacities. As decades have passed, it can be difficult to remember that the dawn of the Baby Boom began at the end of the War. In the 1950s and ’60s, memories of the War were very fresh for most families. In the 1950s, the President of the United States had been the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces; the president who followed was famously a Navy PT boat captain. Memories of the War, and those who perished in it, were front and center a decade or two later.

It was during the boomer years that the evolution of the holiday grew from a solemn one to a tie-in for holiday weekend sales, backyard barbecues and the unofficial beginning of summer. Mister Boomer surmises it was in part because our parents, the ones who lived through the Great Depression and fought the Great War, wanted something better for their children. As such, many would not talk about their war experiences. Mister B was an adult before he knew that all but one of his uncles saw combat in Europe during the War. By the 1960s, his family marked the holiday with an annual picnic at a state park, that included all of his aunts, uncles and cousins.

So much has changed in the decades since the beginning of the Boomer Generation. Society evolves, in some ways for the better, in others, maybe not. If you had a family member who served and died, your perception of the holiday may be different from those who did not. Whether you visit a cemetery, go buy a mattress or fire up the backyard grill this weekend, Mister Boomer wishes you the best.

Did your family celebrate Memorial Day when you were young, boomers? Has that changed as you have aged?

Mister Boomer’s Easter Flashback

As aging boomers can attest now that six-to-seven decades have elapsed in our existence, there are plenty of flashback memories from which to choose on any occasion. This week, as another Easter season passes, Mister B was transported to the early 1960s. The flashback in question concerned his father and attending church on Easter Sunday.

Lent, that 40-day period set aside before Easter for personal reflection and to ask for forgiveness for past transgressions, is also a time when many Christians “give up” something as a symbolic sacrifice for the season. It was encouraged in Mister Boomer’s parochial school, though not particularly practiced among the schoolchildren, who tended to offer up something that wasn’t that much of a problem for them to do without for a month and a half.

Mister Boomer’s family practiced the no-meat-on-Fridays rule, but other than that, it was not typical for family members to discuss “giving up” something for Lent. So it was with great surprise that one year, his father announced he was giving up cigarettes for Lent. Mister B recalls his mother reacting with skepticism. After all, Mister B’s dad had a two-pack-a day habit at the time. Yet he was resolute. From that day forward, he did not smoke, at least around the family.

If you’ve read Mister Boomer’s posts for any length of time, you know his feelings on smoking. There was nothing about it that Mister B could tolerate, even as a child. So cutting the cloud of smoke in the home (or car!) by half for a few weeks was more than welcome.

So it was, as Lent went on, his father held out while his mother continued to spew smoke. Unfortunately for Mister Boomer, though, Lent does not last forever. Easter Sunday was fast approaching, and Mister B and his siblings wondered what would happen to their father’s pledge. They would not wait long to find out.

On Easter Sunday, the family drove to attend services, parking in the smaller of the two parking lots that abutted the church. It was the early 1960s, and church attendance was at its highest, especially on major religious holidays. Securing a good parking spot was crucial to getting the rest of the day underway, lest extra time be spent in trying to exit.

After the service, Mister B’s parents shuffled the kids along so the family would be in the car and ready as soon as an opportunity to leave appeared. Mister Boomer cannot recall the reason for the rush, but more than likely it was the fact that a visit to both grandmothers would ensue, which meant two Easter dinners awaited that afternoon.

As the brisk pace brought the family to the church doors, Mister B saw his father reach into his suit jacket pocket and pull out a new pack of Lucky Strikes. As soon as he crossed the threshold and was outside, a cigarette was in his mouth and being lit with his Zippo lighter. He did not even wait to get to the car. Cigarette lit, Mister B’s father took a long drag and began coughing, though he never stopped the family’s brisk pace to the car. He coughed and coughed, but the cigarette remained in his mouth. There was the answer Mister B dreaded; his father would smoke again.

In fact, Mister Boomer’s father did continue to smoke for another three decades after that Easter Sunday. Still, for forty smoke-free days from his father, Mister Boomer had a moment to catch his breath.

Was giving something up for Lent part of your Easter tradition, Boomers?

More Easter reading from Mister B:
Boomers Loved Their Chocolate Easter Bunnies
Our Sunday Best for Easter