One of the better holidays is approaching.
Most people probably have forgotten exactly how Memorial Day began, a fact that, ironically, enhances the quality of a day set aside for remembering.
It began, of course, in the aftermath of the Civil War as a day devoted to remembering the dead of both sides and to decorating their graves. This loving task eventually made it better known to many as Decoration Day.
A succession of wars kept Memorial Day alive and the passage of generations enlarged its purpose. It became a day of reunions at places of recent family origin and of decorating graves with no discrimination between those who dies in battle and those who died in bed.
It is a holiday that draws the mind back to childhood trips to rural cemeteries in the midland valleys of Arkansas. At those resting places, the local chapters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy or the church circles served strawberry and rhubard pie and iced tea or lemonade to those who came to remember and reunite.
The season is well suited to the day. The last chills of winter are recalled but dimly. The land glows with a universal warmth but is not parched.
It was recently a day of municipal ritual. Schools closed and swimming pools opened. These governmental actions signaled a change of dress. Brown leather shoes and long pants retired to closets to grow too short and were replaced with short pants, sneaker or no shoes at all.
At an accelerating pace, mobility, affluence and leisure have diminished the singular role this day so recently filled.
Mobility has scattered families too far to reunite with eash. Affluence and leisure have created so many days devoted to spectacles and recreation that Memorial Day seems merely to have taken its place in a parade of three-day weekends.
We may have reached a juncture at which it is worth running the risk of spoiling a day off with a renewed sense of purpose. In Virginia, especially, a re-emphasis of Memorial Day could, as memories should, dissolve controversy in good will.
This possibility has its origins in a proposal in the last session of the General Assembly by Sen. L. Douglas Wilder (D-Richmond) to make Jan. 15 a state holiday in honor of the birthday of the slain civil rights leader, Martin Luther King.
Wilder reluctantly accepted an Assembly compromise making Jan. 1 the official day both for celebrating the New Year and honoring King. However, Gov. Mills E. Godwin vetoed the bill, an act that angered Wilder and many other black Virginians.
Black Virginians are understandably put off by assertions that we don't need another state holiday when these assertions come just as a proposal is made for the first official celebration of a black person.
The fact is, we not only don't need another state holiday, we don't need five of the 11 days already set aside by state law.
Four of these days are devoted to the honor of veterans, George Washington, Christopher Columbus and, on a single day. Confederates Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson. The fifth is election day, a miserable excuse for shutting down the government when a law giving employees a reasonable break to vote would suffice.
Lee-Jackson Day, the third Monday of January, undoubtedly is the most obscure Virginia holiday. Its significance eludes many non-government workers until they try to patronize a state-owned liquor store on the way home from work.
Despite the obscurity of the day, anyone who thinks Lee and Jackson do not, like Martin Luther King, have a lobby in Virginia in favor of honoring them is badly misinformed. A crusade to eliminate Lee-Jackson Day as an isolated act would be quixotic if not fatal.
Thereis indeed, no need to cease remembering anyone or to prohibit official honors for new heroes. The last Monday of May - next Monday - is now set aside in Section 21-21 of the Code of Virginia as "Confederate Memorial Day." The Assembly has an opportunity to resolve the holiday problem for all by making this day "Virginia Memorial Day," and eliminating the other days set aside for honoring individuals and veterans.