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By Mary Alice Bisbee
At school and at home, Memorial Day, May 30, regardless of the day of the week, and Memorial Day weekend, were very special times of year for those of us growing up in the Mad River Valley in the 1940s and '50s. As the earth warmed up once again, the leaves and flowers came out, it was time to remember those who had gone before and for families to get together for picnics and trips to the cemetery. It was also the season to "plant" those who had died over the frigid winter and whose bodies were stored for spring burials, as was and still is the custom for those desiring a traditional burial rather than the growing trend of cremations.
Waitsfield Elementary and High School, all in the one building now known as the Old High School, held Memorial Day Exercises on the stage on the second floor of the building. Students from grade 1 (we had no kindergarten) all the way through grade 12, presented patriotic songs, orations of the Gettysburg Address, "In Flanders fields the poppies blow . . .," Longfellow's Evangeline and other shorter, memorized pieces to celebrate the two World Wars and those who had died fighting for their country in all previous wars. Norman Smith and David Bisbee are the two that come to mind for me. Memorial Day was not a holiday for remembering living veterans, only for remembering the war dead.
Waitsfield High School had a very small orchestra, complete with green and white outfits, under the direction of Leo Messier from Barre. We practiced in the basement of the Joslin Memorial Library, now the Waitsfield Town Offices, and marched in a Memorial Day parade, together with soldiers, sailors, American flags and much patriotic celebration down Main Street, from the library to the Waitsfield School, the original center of Waitsfield Village.
Following the parade, a traditional ballgame between Waitsfield High School and Waterbury High School, our number-one rival, was held on the athletic field beside the school, in front of the little cemetery by the Wait House, where the fire station now stands. If someone hit a baseball over Route 100, it was considered an automatic home run. Augusta "Gussie" Brothers-Graves, was the star catcher in the early 1950s, having played on the South Fayston School boys' team all through grammar school. To my knowledge, none of the rest of us girls were ever qualified enough to have that honor!
After 1946 and the death of my young mother at the age of 33, it was always a special time of remembering and celebrating, not just of the war dead but of all those who died and were buried in the cemeteries. We also referred to Memorial Day as "Decoration Day," a time to decorate the graves of all those who went before, not just the war dead. It was a time for my brother, Dan, and my father, Drew, to gather flowers, mostly lilacs, violets and other colorful displays of cut flowers, to bring to all of the graves of both sides of our family.
The Moriarty ancestors, all Catholics, are buried in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Duxbury, including my mother, while my father is buried in the cemetery just up from the covered bridge with his second wife. My grandfather Moriarty dragged a huge stone to that cemetery to remember the dead from the Revolutionary War. We who have had the pleasure of all these early years growing up in The Valley are a very special breed. One of the reasons, I believe, that the Waitsfield High School Alumni Association still holds its yearly banquet on Memorial Day weekend is because this is the time when "old-timers" return to honor and remember all of our ancestors and to decorate their graves. An old custom, which is largely being replaced by tourism, races, craft sales and barbecues.
Bisbee lives in Waitsfield.