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Robert A. Mills

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THE SOUTH SHALL RISE AGAIN – NOT
5/1/2010 7:09:24 AM
Discovered while looking up something else: Monday, April 26, was a Georgia State Holiday commemorating the Confederate Memorial Day, established on that date in 1865 (it was originally called “Decoration Day”) when General Joseph E. Johnson surrendered to General William T. Sherman—the holiday was convened although Georgia did not re-enter the Union until five years later.

But it appears more involved than that. It was a Mrs. Charles Williams, of Columbus, Ga who is credited with the idea of adorning soldiers’ graves with flags and flowers—an idea which eventually caught on across the nation and was finally mandated under Federal law in 1971, a hundred six years after the first floral tribute was placed on the grave of Colonel Charles Williams in Columbus (interestingly, Mrs. Williams’ husband did not die of war wounds; he succumbed to an unspecified disease while serving in the 1st Ga Regulars of the Army of Virginia. I wonder if he might have known, or served under, General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson of the Army of Northern Virginia? Jackson himself was allegedly killed by friendly fire at the battle of Chancellorsville, Va, although research for my novel “Aura Lee” leads me to suspect otherwise.)

Anyway, Mrs. Williams wrote a Letter to the Editor of the Columbus (Ga) Times in which she pleaded: "We beg the assistance of the press and the ladies throughout the South to aid us in this effort to set apart a certain day to be observed from the Potomac to the Rio Grande, and to be handed down through time as a religious custom of the South, to wreathe the graves of our martyred dead with flowers, and we propose the 26th day of April as the day."

Today many Americans acknowledge the holiday (albeit rarely on April 26) by attending parades and picnics and going to baseball games. Few indeed observe the moment of silence that is supposed to take place at 3 PM, and I know of no one who flies his flag at half-staff from dawn’s early light ‘til noon. When was the last time you bought a poppy from a VFW member or read “In Flanders Field” by John McCrae aloud to your kids? Do you still bow your head and say a prayer at 11 AM on November 11, Armistice Day (now called Veterans Day?)

One year—it was the year “Parnelli” Jones won it (1963)—I did take my son to Indianoplace for the tradition of the Indie 500 auto race (Vaughn Monroe, Ol’ Leather Tonsils, was the “Grand Marshall” and RCA Victor supplied me with comp tickets,) but I’ve never made it to the Coca-Cola 600 or the National Memorial Day Concert on the west lawn of the Capitol (they’re all always on TV, anyway.)

Like most of us, I mark Memorial Day as the “unofficial” start of summer and, conversely, Labor Day as its demise, keeping in mind that our modern Decoration Day was set on May 30. It was way back in 1882 that people began calling it "Memorial Day" but even that was hit-and-miss until after WW II; it was during the Johnson Administration that Memorial Day became the official nomenclature.

To cement tradition to reality, in June 1968, Congress debated and passed the bill stating that certain holidays—namely Washington’s Birthday (which became Presidents Day,) Memorial Day (nee Decoration Day) and Veterans Day (WW I’s Armistice Day)—would depart their previous dates and move to a much more sensible Monday, affording workers a relaxing three-day weekend. It became the law of the land in 1971.

Then, to confound the confusion, in 1978 Veterans Day (Armistice Day) was changed back to November 11. Makes no matter: very few get off anymore on Veterans Day, Columbus Day or Presidents Day—the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas, and/or New Year's more often than not become a convenient "holiday" for the drones. Memorial Day, however, remains as a national observance because it signals the start of the summer vacation season.

Not to be outdone, our friends in Canada get off on Victoria Day (God only knows if it was always named for Victoria’s B-day, or just because she was the first sovereign of a confederated Canada,) anyway, it’s a similar time of reflection, on 24 May (or the Monday before,) in any event, precisely seven days before our Memorial Day. A bit confusing but it seems fair.

So there you have it. Were it not for the Civil War, we’d all be chained to the grindstone, our noses to the desk, much as ol’ E. Scrooge demanded of Bob Cratchit.* God bless our servicemen, the Congress of the U.S., Charles Dickens—and us—one and all.

*According to Dickens, Scrooge paid Cratchit a salary of “but fifteenth bob,” or about 5,670USD in 2005 currency. If Tiny Tim’s dad had been more contemporary and a union man, and put in a mere 40 hours a week, 5 days a week, with 2 week’s vacation, he’d have been paid roughly $2.73 an hour. Of course, he’d have made time and a half for Saturday, Sunday and holidays, which now include Memorial Day, 4th of July, Presidents Day, Christmas, etc. I doubt, however, if E.S. would have made any consideration for health care insurance. Assuming frail and crippled Tim was born in early nineteenth century England and was about ten years old at the time of “A Christmas Carol,” Cratchit’s “but fifteenth bob” would have been so far below our minimum wage, chances are the entire family would have perished had not Scrooge experienced his long overdue epiphany. Although Dickens was compelled to pay for “Carol’s” publication out of his own pocket and the book has never been out of print, his royalty recompense during his lifetime was a meager £230, which says a lot for self-publishing. True, it only took six weeks to write; if he’d been paid “but fifteenth bob” for his effort, Dickens would have made (in 2005 dollars) the resounding sum of $655—barely enough for Cratchit to cover a month’s COBRA premium once President Obama’s subsidy expired.

Copyright©2010 by Robert A. Mills


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