Gather around, children, and let me tell you about a time when Memorial Day wasn’t on a Monday.
For years, it was observed on May 30, regardless of the day of the week. Then, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act that went into effect in 1971 determined that certain national holidays would fall on specific Mondays in order to create three-day weekends.
While extended holidays are indeed delightful for those who get them, I have to believe that taking vacations over these long weekends has become more important to many than remembering the important reasons we established these observances.
While my respect is unceasing for those who have made the supreme sacrifice while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, I’ve nevertheless decided to forgo my usual “In Flanders Fields” tribute this year. Instead, I’ll reflect on Memorial Day a half-century ago, because the last week in May 1968 is important to me for reasons unrelated to the meaning of Memorial Day.
Memorial Day weekend 1968 was the first time I visited Brownwood.
Before then, the only thing I knew about Brownwood or Howard Payne College (at the time) was when sports announcers on El Paso television stations gave the football or basketball scores. A man in our church grew up in Cross Plains and graduated from Daniel Baker College, and he endorsed Howard Payne as a small, Christian school I might consider.
I had different ideas, but I added Howard Payne’s contact to the college entrance exam because I could send my scores to three schools, and I was interested in only two others.
My scores merited a modest scholarship offer from Howard Payne, which caught my attention. But the chance to work as an intern — for college credit — at the local daily newspaper sealed the deal.
I decided I would at least start my college career at Howard Payne. My plan was to attend two years before transferring to a campus closer to where my parents were moving in North Carolina. So much for plans.
I never dreamed I would build a career here, raise a family here, and become accepted into the community even though I wasn’t “Born in Brownwood.”
I certainly never imagined I would be living here 50 years later.
My recollection is I drove from New Mexico on Memorial Day, Thursday, May 30, and stayed overnight in Ballinger with relatives of another family in our church. The next day I came to Brownwood and toured the campus. Administrators were working even though it was a four-day holiday weekend for many. Such dedication impressed me, but when then-President Guy D. Newman welcomed me into his office, I was speechless.
Another incoming freshman was also visiting Howard Payne that day, and she was the first classmate I met. She and her husband remain good friends.
My car was only three weeks old, so the first thing I did was find a convenient car wash. I also visited Underwood’s Cafeteria for the first of countless meals.
Time is a peculiar dimension. When you’re 18, looking back 50 years is pretty much ancient history. But when you’ve lived through it all, 50 years seems like yesterday. It certainly does for me.
One of my early mentors in the newspaper business, former Bulletin publisher Ronald Gray, warned me that “the Bayou water gets in your blood.”
He was wise about many things, but especially about that.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.