Bob Mitchell: The days before it was Memorial Day

Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Bob Mitchell Ozark Views & Comments

Seventy-five or 80 years ago, there was considerable anxiety around the Ray House at Ninth and Townsend about this time of the year, as Decoration Day neared and there was much to do in preparation.

Two of my mother's sisters, Missie Pearl and Bland Hawk had both been widowed at a fairly young age. Others in the family had passed in a household that believed in remembering family members who were no longer with us.

Glen Pearl was a store owner in the Indian Territories of Oklahoma before his death. Emmons Hawk was station master of the Cassville and Exeter Railroad for the Messer family. He and my aunt Bland lived in the second story of the Depot, a favorite overnighter for me on occasion.

Oddly enough, the family was strong on peonies for decorating graves and even went to the effort to order extra from what they grew in their yard from a local florist. Since this order had to be placed several days in advance, the flowers, mostly in the bud, got a position of honor in the ice box of that era. They were protected to be of the best appearance when they were placed on the graves.

There were frequent trips to Sarcoxie to purchase flowers when it was determined the local florist wasn't going to have a good supply for Decoration Day.

Those were the days when the Sarcoxie operation was alongside the highway in the south part of town. Today's operations are located north of town on an acreage that is something to see at blooming time. Oddly as it might seem, the peonies were ready, in the bud, about the last part of May, just in time for the observance. Normally, they have been blooming in our yard a week or two in advance of time for their use.

Water was my thing

These were the days before water was available at Oak Hill Cemetery. To make sure the flowers stayed attractive as long as possible, they had to be placed in containers with water. This is where the younger members of the family came into the picture.

We used various containers for transporting water to the cemetery hill. There was a cream can that held about three gallons. On a heavy decoration day, a wash tub was placed in the trunk of a vehicle and then water carried by buckets that were filled out of a well pump on the west side of the house. The folks apparently thought the well water might be better for the flowers than would the water from the city hydrants.

It's Memorial Day now

By an act of Congress, the holiday was moved to the last Monday in May to provide another three-day weekend for the working man and to accommodate remembering those who had served their nation -- especially those who had given their lives for the cause of freedom. Of special importance was recognizing those who had served in the military by placing an American Flag at their headstone.

For years, the tradition was promoted by Irwin-Easley American Legion for cemeteries throughout South Barry County. The Cassville Democrat was a distribution point for getting the grave flags out to the various associations or individuals who accepted the responsibility for placing the flags. Due to the cost involved, groups were asked to use the flags two years, as long as they did not become wet or faded. For the same reason -- cost -- the program was dropped in later years.

A stickler for Decoration Day or Memorial Day, my mother would always make sure the office had a sufficient supply on hand before the holiday. She took it upon herself to be at the office in the morning of the holiday in case there were any late-comers to get a supply of American Flags for their particular area.

Gather, alumni

The Saturday before Memorial Day has for years been the appropriate date for Cassville R-4 graduates to gather on campus for their annual Alumni Banquet.

It is a little known fact, or a forgotten one, that Butterfield alumni are also invited to attend. Shortly after the reorganization program that put the two high school districts together, the Cassville group officially invited our neighbors to the north to become a part of the Cassville group. It was official, voted upon and all, the year I was the alumni president, which was more years ago than I care to admit.