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A stupid Yankee's Memorial Day thoughts

By By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
May 30, 2004
The late Dave Gardner was a stand-up comedian whose popularity peaked in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Known as Brother Dave Gardner, his comedy was strictly Southern. I discovered him when I was a kid, listening to my parents' old records. It's the same way I discovered Chuck Berry and Little Richard.
On one of his comedy albums Brother Dave said: Over in Hot Springs, Arkansas, I saw some of them ignorant Southerners selling water to them brilliant Yankees.'
The line is dated now, but I thought it was funny as a kid. I'm sure the joke was funnier 40-some-odd years ago, when the world was still kind of a big place and regions divided us more than they do today.
Shrinking South
When I came to Meridian from Arkansas three years ago I found out how small the world was when a few people told me I was a "Yankee." It was obvious the South was shrinking, too.
Then came a day in late April when I found businesses and public offices closed due to some holiday unknown to me. Someone finally explained rolling their eyes that it was Confederate Memorial Day … "stupid Yankee."
Turns out Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana and Tennessee all have a separate Memorial Day for their Confederate dead.
Not knowing any better, I often think of my Confederate ancestors on regular Memorial Day. I also think about my ancestors who fought in the Continental Army before there really was a United States.
Technically, Memorial Day is intended to remember those who died in our nation's service. Although there are many variations of how the holiday started, one well documented account is that it began during the Civil War with an organized women's group in the South, that honored their Confederate dead.
True meaning
Every year veterans tell me the true meaning of Memorial Day is lost amid distractions of retail sales, barbecues and long weekends at the beach. Some would like to tell people how to celebrate it. To me, the best thing about Memorial Day is that we live in a country where we can observe it or not, and if we do, we can do so any way we want because of those who have preserved our freedom.
Memorial Day makes me think of my paternal grandfather, who was a World War I veteran of the U.S. Army, but it also reminds me of my maternal grandfather who never wore a uniform, but grew food and fiber for the U.S. government during World War II while managing German POWs on his farm in Arkansas.
This past week I thought a lot about the hundreds of U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq for their country. This year I've thought a lot about people who made the ultimate sacrifice off the battlefield during the civil rights movement as it picked up momentum in Dave Gardner's heyday.
For me Memorial Day is big enough to include all of our nation's heroes, whether they wore a uniform or not, and I think it should be about reconciliation rather than division, especially in an ever-shrinking world.
Those were some of my thoughts this past week as I prepared for the long Memorial Day weekend at a local convenience store where I paid $1.99 for a gallon of gas and $1.06 for a 20-ounce bottle of tap water with a label on it … "stupid Yankee."
Steve Gillespie is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3233, or e-mail