Decoration Day

photo from
photo from

It’s called Memorial Day now, but it was first known as Decoration Day. Held on a Sunday in late spring or early summer, annual Decoration Days in some rural areas of the American South, notably in the mountains, involve a family graveyard where remote ancestors as well as those who were deceased more recently are buried. In some instances, it looks like a big family reunion is taking place in the cemetery. This used to be more prevalent, and I recall my mother telling me that families often brought picnic lunches to share under the shade of a big elm tree in a graveyard. It’s actually quite beautiful, when you think about it. People put flowers and flags on graves and renew contacts with kinfolk and others. It is believed that this practice began before the American Civil War.

It’s easy to forget the real meaning of Memorial Day when advertisements are everywhere. Cars and trucks (honor those killed in wars by buying a gas-guzzling truck!). Mattresses (you’ll sleep better knowing you bought an American-manufactured mattress. Right?). Anything from an electronics store, where absolutely none of those electronics is made in the USA anymore.

Or, revisit your past by finding a parade down Main Street in a small town. Fire up the grill, toss that potato salad, pop a top (again), and kick back, if you can.

For me, I’ll remember my dad, who served the United States Navy during WWII and again during the Korean War. And I’ll thank my father-in-law, who was a career Army man and a paratrooper.

Of Sunburned Shoulders and Sandy Feet

Rhode Island is known as “the Ocean State.”  Big ocean, the Atlantic.  Small(est) state, Rhode Island.  Lots of coastline.  In fact, we’re only 37 miles wide and 48 miles long, but our shoreline runs for 400 miles along Narragansett Bay and that Atlantic Ocean.

The “Visit Rhode Island” website lists 57 beaches, but they include landlocked sites as well as “real” beaches with sand and surf.

With the Memorial Day weekend upon us, and the “official” start to summer (ha! we had a temperature of 72 this past March 12th), I’m thinking back to some memorable days at the beach.

As a kid, there was only one beach: Sand Hill Cove.  It had a giant parking lot, cracked and grassy, and you didn’t have to pay to park.  My dad drove a Ford with vinyl seats that were so hot at the end of the day, you had to lay down your damp towel to sit.  Rubbing my feet together, sand fell to the floor.  I rolled down the window and let the salty air blow my hair dry.

As a teenager, Scarborough Beach was the place to be seen.  Sherry and I would lay on big towels and talk about boys, and drink Fresca.  I hadn’t yet grasped the necessity of sunscreen.

Narragansett Beach courtesy

As a young woman, I’d spend my days at Narragansett Beach, one of thousands packing the shore.  Still thinking I’d tan as well as my olive-skinned friends, I’d blister and peel the summer away, smelling like Noxzema from June to September.

Before I was married, I’d drive to the Charlestown Breachway early in the morning.  With a large hot coffee, a blueberry muffin, the newspaper, a book and sometimes a sweatshirt, I’d sit alone, in the lifting fog, reading and sipping and reveling in the solitude.  The fishermen on the breachway were quiet, too – all of us respectful of this time of day.

Or, Geri and I would spend the day at East Matunuck Beach on Succotash Road, talking about men.  I was getting better about sunscreen and a hat.

The summer after we were married, Jim and I took the ferry from Galilee to Block Island.  At Old Harbor, we made the short walk to Ballard’s, and rented white chaise lounges for a few bucks.  They were ours for the day.  Jim would go to the bar at Ballard’s and bring back frozen drinks – it was like being at a resort.  Later, we ate fresh bluefish before taking the ferry back to the mainland.

Ballard’s Beach courtesy

Now, we prefer to drive down Route 1 south in the afternoon, when Route 1 north is a parking lot.  The beach is emptied of all but a few, there’s no parking fee (an outrage to any native Rhode Islander), and we can walk, swim, picnic at the best time of day.  And at five in the afternoon, no worries about sunburn.