Lessons on ‘Decoration Day’

Published 11:00 pm Friday, May 25, 2012

Daddy was a soldier in World War II.

Actually, he was in the Army Air Corps but in my child’s mind, he was a soldier.

Daddy was a pilot and he had two crashes – one in an airplane and the other in the car coming down a mountain in Montana.

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He had to make a crash landing of sorts during a snowstorm in Alaska. Lucky for him, an Eskimo family lived nearby and came to his rescue. Daddy said it was the custom of a male Eskimo to offer a guest in his igloo the opportunity for warm sleep with his wife or their dog. Daddy said one look at the wife and he slept with the dog.

I always laughed when Daddy told about that.

Daddy’s other crash landing was when his car slid off an icy mountain. He was taken to a nearby hospital while the policemen – that was before women’s lib and gender identification was not an issue – searched frantically for “the baby.”

The car was loaded with my baby crib and all of my baby belongings because Daddy was taking Mama and me home to Alabama the next day. Of course, with Daddy in the hospital, we didn’t get to go. Daddy stayed in the hospital for about a week – not because he was hurt that badly but because he was scared of what Mama would do to him because we had to live in that “Frigidaire” until the spring thaw.

Daddy was proud to serve in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Uncle Sam didn’t call him to duty. He just took off and went.

Daddy had “buddies” who were killed during World War II. He kept newspaper clippings of some of the obituaries in his Army Air Corps photo album with the wood cover. He didn’t talk much about them but every now and then, he would get the album out and look at it. He kept the pictures of his dogs Jake – he named all of his dogs Jake – in that album, too. But I think it was the pictures of his buddies that he kept revisiting.

When I was growing up, not too much was made of patriotic holidays. If there were parades, Mama didn’t take me. But, there was this one patriotic holiday day for which memory stands clear.

My granny called it Decoration Day and, to get ready for it, we went to the cemetery in Bakerhill and put flowers on all the graves.

My granny used red crepe paper to make poppies to wear on Decoration Day. She said it was for the soldiers who died while fighting for our country. Aunt Florene always cried on Decoration Day because of somebody that died. They never told me who.

I didn’t cry.

I had a little dog named Jip. He was shiny and skinny and had big brown eyes. Daddy said he was about the ugliest dog he had ever seen. I knew he was teasing me because Jip was not ugly. He would sit in my lap and I would sing to him and tell him stories. Jip was my best friend.

Late one afternoon, I was playing in the back yard. My granddaddy came bounding along the pig trail that ran by our house on his pickup truck.

Why Jip ran in front of the truck, I don’t know. Pop didn’t even know he ran over Jip. Pop was hard of hearing and didn’t hear me screaming and crying either.

A few days later, I went to the cemetery with my granny to decorate the graves for Decoration Day. That was the first time that I realized what that special day was all about. It was about lost lives and lost loves. No wonder Aunt Florene cried.


Jaine Treadwell is features editor at The Messenger. Email her at jaine.treadwell@troymessenger.com.