The Semantics of Flowers on Memorial Day

“The first official observance of what we now know as Memorial Day was held on May 30, 1868, by proclamation of John A. Logan, Commander in Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic and a Civil War veteran. The day was set aside to honor those who died ‘in defense of the country during the late rebellion.’ Known as Decoration Day, the observance drew on a long Southern tradition of honoring the dead by decorating grave sites with flowers. In late spring or early summer, extended families would gather in mountain cemeteries for ‘dinner on the ground,’ spreading tablecloths on the grass and using their best plates for a potluck meal. They arranged flowers on the graves, sang hymns, held service and baptisms, and prayed. This practice is still common in the South, from the Ozarks to North Carolina.”

On Veterans day I wrote a post about my father’s final ‘act of war’  after V-E Day at the end of WWII – giving the horse he patrolled mountains in Germany on – to a farmer.  I’ve hardly stopped thinking about him since church yesterday when anyone who had a friend or family member die in service to our country was asked to stand so that we could recognize them.  I wanted to stand but my Dad, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, was a POW in Germany before escaping and who realized the truth of the holocaust after helping to liberate a concentration camp by driving a tank over its gate, survived.  My Grandfather, who was my Dad’s stepfather and actually served with him, told me that one of my father’s early experiences of the horrors of war was standing next to his best friend when his friend’s head was blown off; that my Dad “went to war one man and came back another.”  Both of them would have liked Bob Hicok’s take on today:

The semantics of flowers on Memorial Day

    Historians will tell you my uncle
wouldn’t have called it World War II
or the Great War plus One or Tombstone

    over My Head. All of this language
came later. He and his buddies
knew it as get my ass outta here

    or fucking trench foot and of course
sex please now. Petunias are an apology
for ignorance, my confidence

    that saying high-density bombing
or chunks of brain in cold coffee
even suggests the athleticism

    of his flinch or how casually
he picked the pieces out.
Geraniums symbolize the secrets

    life kept from him, the wonder
of variable-speed drill and how
the sky would have changed had he lived

    to shout it’s a girl. My hands
enter dirt easily, a premonition.
I sit back on my uncle’s stomach

    exactly like I never did, he was
a picture to me, was my father
looking across a field at wheat

    laying down to wind. For a while,
Tyrants’ War and War of World Freedom
and Anti-Nazi War skirmished

    for linguistic domination. If
my uncle called it anything
but too many holes in too many bodies

    no flower can say. I plant marigolds
because they came cheap and who knows
what the earth’s in the mood to eat.

On this Memorial Monday we pray:

    “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; That He may teach us concerning His ways and that we may walk in His paths.” For the law will go forth from Zion and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples; And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they learn war. Come, house of Jacob, and let us walk in the light of the LORD.


This entry was posted in The Rev. Jim Quigley, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Semantics of Flowers on Memorial Day

  1. Jo says:

    I thank you for sharing your personal reflections as well as the poem.
    Why didn’t that question get asked at 11:15? It’s important.

  2. says:

    Jim, my Uncle Dag (short for Dagwood, nickname of Harwood Hamner) survived the Battle of the Bulge also…only to come home and be shot to death in the Alabama woods by a drunken good ol’ boy hunting deer. This beloved uncle and my Aunt Elsie were not able to have children of their own, so they gave me all that pent-up love. From Uncle Dag I learned what it means spiritually to foster other people’s children, and I think that’s the best definition of ministry ever conceived. Happy Monday to you as well…and many blessings for the things you share. pat bleicher

  3. Marty Kerns says:

    Thank you, Jim. Sharing our memories will always keep those who are no longer with us alive in our hearts and minds.


  4. yalilla says:

    Your father’s story is astonishing….you must have treasured this throughout your life. Hope he wrote it down at some point —- and thanks for sharing it with us.

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