2021 Sammy Awards: Part Deux

Welcome back to The Sammys!! If you missed out on Part 1 please check it out then join us right back here. Give a rousing ovation to our host, renowned comedian Dave Chappelle!!

After some thought-provoking comedy from our host it’s time for our next award, and making his debut on our stage is a driver in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series. He has won only one race in 119 starts in the course of six years, but he’s only 28 years old and we feel like his future is bright. It was that single win in October 2021 that made him marginally famous, albeit not for the reason he likely preferred. Y’all know what to do as we proudly introduce Brandon Brown!! Let’s go Brandon!!!! And the nominees are:

The Thrill of Victory Award

Brady Wins Another Super Bowl

On February 7, 2021 Tom Brady’s decision to leave New England after two decades paid off, as he led his new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to a convincing 31-9 victory over the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs. Brady earned his seventh Lombardi Trophy and was the game’s MVP for the fifth time.

The Tide Rolls…Again

On January 11, 2021 the Alabama Crimson Tide won their sixth National Championship in twelve years by administering a 52-24 beatdown to the Ohio St. Buckeyes, who shouldn’t have been in the playoff in the first place.

Baylor’s Madness

After COVID forced the cancellation of March Madness in 2020 the tournament returned a year later, with Gonzaga, Houston, Baylor, & UCLA ending up in the Final Four. The Baylor Bears beat the previously undefeated Gonzaga Bulldogs on April 5, 2021 to earn their first ever National Championship.

Helio’s 4th Indy 500

COVID also affected the Indianapolis 500 in 2020, causing it to be delayed until August. I missed it because I completely forgot about it being rescheduled. Thankfully the Indy 500 returned to its familiar Memorial Day Weekend spot in 2021, with dynamic 46 year old Brazilian Helio Castroneves following in the footsteps of legends AJ Foyt, Al Unser Sr., & Rick Mears by capturing his fourth Borg-Warner Trophy.

Milwaukee Wins NBA Title

In July 2021 (because the season was delayed slightly & reduced by ten games) the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns in six games (4-2) to win their first NBA title since Lew Alcindor (aka Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) had led them to a championship in 1971. “The Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo was named Finals MVP, fulfilling the potential so many had seen in him throughout his nine year career.

Braves Win Another World Series

Selective memory is funny. I really thought the Braves had won several World Series back in the 1990’s when I truly despised them. However, it turns out that in five appearances they only won once in that time span (they’d won the Series two previous times decades before I was born). That made their 2021 victory more palatable, and it also helped that they defeated the Houston Astros, who I still consider cheaters that should’ve been stripped of the championship they “won” in 2017. To be honest I didn’t watch much of this Series, which the Braves won in six games, 4-2.

and the Sammy goes to…..

Milwaukee Bucks. It was just nice to have a Finals that didn’t include the LA Lakers, Golden St. Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, San Antonio Spurs, or Miami Heat. Lebron James was nowhere to be found. It was a fresh matchup involving teams that aren’t usually around at the end. The Bucks hadn’t won a title in fifty years, so kudos to them.

To present our next award we are happy to welcome a young lady who has been enjoying her freedom the past few months. She may never recapture the success or popularity that she enjoyed two decades ago, but seems to be in a good place in her life. She’s a pretty decent follow on Instagram and we sincerely hope her loneliness is no longer killing her. Get on your feet for Grammy Award winning pop princess Britney Spears!! And the nominees are:

Favorite Podcast or Viral Videos

Broken Skull Sessions w/ “Stone Cold” Steve Austin

Former WWE Champion “Stone Cold” Steve Austin has segued nicely from opening up a can o’ whoopass in the wrestling ring to a variety of entertainment projects that keep him in the pop culture consciousness. While I don’t particularly care for his Broken Skull Challenge on CMT or Straight Up Steve Austin on USA Network, I do like his Broken Skull Sessions, which is just a conversation between Austin and another wrestling legend or current star. I you’re a wrestling fan it’s not a bad way to spend 60-90 minutes of your evening.

Tipsy Bartender

Bartender Skyy John is still slinging drinks online. Sometimes his creations are kind of wacky, and lately he’s altered his format a bit, but I still must give him a shoutout. If he eliminates the stupid music that’s all the sudden become a thing and gets back to entertaining us with his infectious personality while preparing those crazy concoctions that’d be nice.  

Oral Sessions w/ Renee Paquette

Formerly known as Renee Young in WWE, Paquette has moved on but hasn’t totally escaped pro wrestling. That’s probably not going to happen since she’s married to AEW star Jon Moxley (aka Dean Ambrose) and the couple welcomed a baby girl just a few months ago. Oral Sessions differs from Austin’s show in that occasionally Paquette will interview someone outside of the wrestling realm, usually an MMA fighter, although she had her mother on once as well.

Men with the Pot

Calm down, it’s not what it sounds like…it is a cooking show, but can’t be compared to anything you’ll see on Food Network. These are simple, brief, minimalist videos made by two Polish dudes in Ireland. They’re usually about 5-10 minutes in length and show some tasty vittles being cooked out in the wild, almost like a virtual camping trip. Unlike most food-centric programs that focus on the personality of the host (I’m looking at you Guy Fieri, Emeril Lagasse, & Bobby Flay) Men with the Pot doesn’t even show us who’s cooking. Perhaps we’ll see a hand or a leg, but otherwise there is no talking, no music, and no other sounds besides veggies being chopped, meat sizzling in an iron skillet, the gentle flow of a babbling brook, and the lovely chirping of birds. Oh, and the food always looks amazing!!

Food Dolls

Another cooking show that’s also rather austere & oddly soothing. The two hosts are lovely Egyptian-American sisters who would most certainly thrive as phone sex operators if this gig ever falls thru. The videos are usually a minute or less, meaning you’ll need to hunt down the recipe if you actually want to make the dish yourself. That being said, I don’t know about y’all, but as much as I enjoy watching other people cook on television or online I rarely attempt to actually cook the food they make. I don’t know why I enjoy such programs, but I do.

and the Sammy goes

Men with the Pot. I’m going to contradict myself. With Tipsy Bartender it’s all about the host and his extroversion. However, sometimes the direct opposite is a nice change of pace. Have you ever listened to ambient music to fall asleep?? Thunderstorms. A crackling fireplace. Gentle rain. Men with the Pot is exactly like that, only with food. Its charm is the lack of a host…no one talking or laughing or yelling or drawing attention to themselves. The food is the focus, and it’s mesmerizing.

To present our next award we thought “what the hell” and decided to utilize NASCAR driver Brandon Brown for a second time. Let’s go Brandon!!!! And the nominees are:

The Agony of Defeat Award

Simone Biles

I don’t generally pay attention to gymnastics, and I assume I’m not alone. It’s something we notice every four years when The Olympics come around. If you were to ask me who the best gymnast of all time is I’d throw out names like Mary Lou Retton (total WV bias) & Nadia Comaneci (because I’m old), but this past summer talking heads really tried to sell the idea that the title should belong to 24 year old Simone Biles. I guess recency bias is a real thing. But something odd happened on the way to immortality…saying she “felt the weight of the world” on her shoulders (which is sort of the whole point of Olympic competition), Biles withdrew from the team finals, individual all-around finals, and almost all the individual event finals that she’d qualified for, although she did end up winning a bronze medal in the balance beam competition. Team USA won the team silver, which likely would have been a gold medal had Biles led the group like she was supposed to do. Every talking head & soccer Mom jumped to the defense of Simone Biles and discussion of mental health issues came to the forefront (the only good thing to come out of the situation), but the only thing I could think was how I had never seen a world class athlete fold like a cheap suit on such a grand stage. Quite frankly it was embarrassing. We’ve all heard the phrase “if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen”, and Simone Biles couldn’t so she did. She quit on her team & her country. I wish the young lady well in her future. I’m sure she’ll be fine, but sadly her legacy is forever tarnished.

The Cleveland Guardians of the Galaxy

The PC Police continue to destroy American culture piece by piece, and in 2021 it was MLB’s Cleveland Indians turn to be cancelled. The franchise announced that they’d be abandoning the Indians nickname and become the Cleveland Guardians, which is about as stupid of a choice as they could have possibly made.

Urban Meyer

He may be a good football coach, but to call Urban Meyer enigmatic would be kind. He’s well-travelled, which is a nice way of saying he’s an unreliable job hopper who bolts at the first sign of trouble. However, his departure from the Jacksonville Jaguars before the end of his first season at the helm was not Meyer’s choice. In October video of the coach being a bit too cozy with a woman other than his wife in a Columbus, OH restaurant went viral. To make matters worse, the Jags had just lost a game in Cincinnati, but Meyer didn’t go back to Jacksonville with the team, which is why he was in Columbus. Then in December accusations of mistreatment of players emerged, most notably former kicker Josh Lambo saying that Meyer literally kicked him in the leg. That was the final straw and the team decided to cut its losses. Will Urban Meyer land on his feet?? Probably. Some college team will give him another chance eventually, or he’ll land a TV gig.

147th Kentucky Derby

In 2020 the Kentucky Derby was another sporting event impacted by COVID, as it was delayed from its usual spot on the calendar in early May until September, and even then there were no fans in the stands, which was weird. 2021 saw a return to relative normalcy (Churchill Downs allowed 60% capacity). Unfortunately the outcome was marred by controversy, as winner Medina Spirit tested positive for an illegal substance after the race. An investigation is still ongoing (why such a process takes more than eight months is baffling) and sadly the horse died in December.

The Olympics

The “2020” Summer Olympics in Tokyo were delayed until 2021 (I’ll give you three guesses as to why and the first two don’t count), and the event was made even less interesting than usual by the fact that no spectators were allowed at the venues. I don’t think I watched one second of The Olympics, and I don’t feel bad about that.

NIL & The Transfer Portal

In case you’ve been curious, NIL stands for “name, image, & likeness”. Last summer the NCAA instituted new rules that allow collegiate athletes to be paid thru marketing deals in which they can now take advantage of whatever level of fame they have achieved. The transfer portal was actually created in 2018, but didn’t cause much of a buzz until 2021 when additional rules went into effect allowing any athlete to transfer without having to sit out a year. For now they’re allowed to transfer once, but I expect that to be tweaked in the future. Essentially this is collegiate free agency, with the additional carrot of getting paid being dangled just to make things interesting. And while I believe that these rules were created with the best of intentions what we are now seeing are unintended, chaotic consequences, like Oklahoma’s freshman QB Caleb Williams entering the portal despite having supplanted a presumed Heisman candidate under center and leading his team to an 11-2 record. There are so many tentacles to this thing that recruiting has been rendered moot. It doesn’t matter what team lands a kid out of high school because that player can ditch his team for a better deal, whether that means more playing time, a higher profile program, or a better marketing deal. College sports are farm clubs for the NFL, NBA, & (to a lesser extent) MLB now. That’s probably been true for awhile, but they aren’t even pretending to hide it anymore.

MLB All Star Game

Thanks to ESPN and other sports media the worlds of sports & politics collide more & more these days. The 2021 All-Star Game was scheduled to be played in Atlanta, but then Georgia had to go & pass an election integrity law requiring voter ID and other measures to ensure fair elections. Integrity & fairness are abhorrent ideas to liberals, so heads exploded. Somehow this turned into MLB moving the All Star Game to Denver. I didn’t watch, I don’t know who won, and I don’t care.

Tiger Woods

We all know it’s been a rough decade for Tiger Woods. His personal life got messy and various ailments derailed his legendary golf career. At one time it seemed like a lock that he’d shatter Jack Nicklaus’ record of winning 18 major titles (U.S. Open, The Masters, British Open, PGA Championship). When everything imploded for Tiger in 2009 he had won 14 majors in twelve years. He had begun to make a bit of a comeback, culminating in winning his fifth Masters in 2019 at age 43. That victory provided a glimpse of the old Tiger and made us believe that maybe…just maybe…he still had an opportunity to catch The Golden Bear. Unfortunately, on February 23, 2021 Tiger rolled his vehicle near Los Angeles and suffered significant injuries to both of his legs. Even Woods himself admits now that his days as a full-timer on the PGA Tour are over and, though he’ll likely still play in as many majors as possible, his pursuit of Nicklaus will probably fall short.

and the Sammy goes to…..

NIL & The Transfer Portal. The guise of “student-athletes” has been laughable for a long time, but it was still fun to pretend that these young people were amateurs. That’s finished now, atleast when it comes to football & basketball. High school quarterback Quinn Ewers matriculated to Ohio St. and was so highly touted that he signed a $1.4 million NIL deal. He got into one game with the Buckeyes…two snaps in garbage time…and was beaten out for the starting gig by redshirt freshman CJ Stroud, who was a Heisman finalist. So Ewers took his ball & went home to play for Texas, where he’ll probably be the starter next season. But don’t worry, cause he’s sitting on a million Gs after accomplishing literally NOTHING. Does anyone see an issue with that?? NFL legend Deion Sanders is now the head coach at 1-AA/FCS Jackson St., and Coach Prime made waves by recruiting five-star cornerback Travis Hunter. To the surprise of almost everybody Hunter chose Jackson St. over Florida St., Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, Oklahoma, and others. Rumors have swirled that he also has a $1.5 million NIL deal on the table, although that is unconfirmed. Does anyone actually think the young man will stay more than a year at Jackson St.?? I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t enter the portal a year from now and end up at one of the elite schools that recruited him in the first place. It’s crazy. It’s a free-for-all. And I don’t think any of it is good for collegiate athletics.

To present our next award The Sammys are turning to a trio of actors known primarily for their television work, specifically in daytime dramas. Two gentlemen left their longtime roles on ABC’s General Hospital after Disney (perhaps the world’s most evil corporation, ironically) imposed silly vaccine mandates and they refused to bow to the pressure. They are joined by a beautiful young lady whose departure from General Hospital in 2020 was not her choice. She has since become one of my favorite follows on Instagram, especially after her family adopted a beautiful pug puppy that reminds me so much of my dearly departed Rocco. You may know them as Jasper Jacks, Jason Morgan, & Lulu Falconeri, but we’re pretty excited to give it up for Ingo Rademacher, Steve Burton, & Emme Rylan!! And the nominees are:

Favorite Movie

Coming 2 America

The long overdue sequel to the 1998 classic starring Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, & James Earl Jones finds Prince Akeem of Zamunda returning to New York City to find the son he never knew he produced. Hilarity ensues…kind of. I didn’t hate it, but it doesn’t measure up to its predecessor. Is nostalgia a good enough reason to create…anything?? I don’t know, but it’s an interesting question to ponder. At any rate, Murphy isn’t as funny as he might have been three decades ago, but I’ll take Eddie Murphy at half speed over most of the people kids believe are funny nowadays.

The Addams Family 2

The Addams Family has spawned TV shows, cartoons, movies, and just about everything else you can imagine. In 2019 they returned to the big screen in computer animated form, and this is the sequel to that film. It’s mildly entertaining but mostly forgettable. My perspective is biased by the fact that, right around the time this movie hit theaters, our local community theater produced a high quality stage production of The Addams Family Musical that had been nominated for a Tony Award in 2010. The musical I saw (twice) was far superior to this movie.

Spider-Man: No Way Home

The third installment of Marvel’s Spider-Man franchise dives into something called The Multiverse. I’m not a comic book nerd so I can’t give you a detailed explanation, but I’ll just say it’s pretty trippy. I have never seen any of the MCU movies other than the Spider-Man flicks, all three of which I have enjoyed immensely. At this point I am sure most everyone has either seen the movie or read spoilers, but I won’t go there. Suffice to say that it is well-written with fine performances, has a lot of action, and isn’t a bad way to spend a couple of hours. It is exactly what good popcorn cinema should be.

American Underdog

I’m a sucker for a good biopic, and I understand why some would think Kurt Warner’s story is interesting enough to be made into a movie. That being said, despite the fact that Warner is an NFL Hall-of-Famer, two-time League MVP, and one time Super Bowl MVP, my initial reaction to hearing about the film was “They made a movie…about Kurt Warner??”. That’s a good thing though because I set the bar low and didn’t have any kind of grand expectations, making it that much easier for the finished product to exceed them, which it did. American Underdog isn’t going to be remembered in the same conversation with the greatest sports movies or even the best biopics, but it’s entertaining enough.

King Richard

As much of a sports nut as I am tennis has never frosted my cupcake. I know just enough about the game & its personalities to carry on a reasonably intelligent conversation, but that’s about it. However, you’d have to have been living under a rock the past couple of decades not to have heard of Venus & Serena Williams, who have become two of the best players of all time. The movie isn’t about them though…not really. Their father, Richard, is the ultimate helicopter parent, but he is portrayed in such a way that we don’t hate him. He dreams up a life plan for his girls when they are just babies, and he’s hellbent & determined to follow thru. He wants them to be professional tennis players and is willing to make sacrifices to make that happen. We’ve seen similar stories, but usually the parents are depicted as self-centered & borderline abusive. Richard Williams isn’t either of those things really…he’s just doggedly single-minded and sort of crazy, but in a sympathetic, non-threatening way. Is the film an accurate portrayal of Richard?? Who knows?? It is a really good movie though, and if Will Smith doesn’t win the Academy Award for Best Actor it will be a crime.     

Tom & Jerry

If you are of a certain age and grew up watching Tom & Jerry cartoons you’ll enjoy it well enough, but that’s as far as I can go. The technology is cool, putting the titular twosome in real world places & backgrounds that are not animated. The issue I have is that Tom D. Cat and Jerome A. Mouse are supporting characters in their own movie. The plot revolves around a down-on-her-luck 20-something who deceives her way into a job at a swanky hotel just as it is preparing to host a lavish celebrity wedding. The whole thing could’ve been a lighthearted rom-com without any critters and not changed all that much. But their cat & mouse game (I could NOT help myself) does drive the story to the point that the wedding is destroyed (literally), so I suppose that’s the idea. At the end of the day though there is way too much humanity for an alleged animated film.

In the Heights

Lin-Manuel Miranda could retire as the dude who gave us Hamilton and that would be enough, but he’s back with what can best be described as a love letter to the Latino community, specifically Washington Heights in New York City’s Upper Manhattan. The music is lively & fun, and the performances are fantastic. I am sure those from a similar background that identify closely with the story love the movie more than me, and I mean that respectfully. I enjoyed it and liked the music, but understand completely that I am not the target audience. Miranda set the bar impossibly high with Hamilton, and while In the Heights tries mightily, it falls short of the mark.

and the Sammy goes to…..

King Richard. I’m not really a huge Will Smith fan. His filmography is hit & miss for me, but when he hits he knocks it out of the ballpark. I think it helps that I’m not really into tennis, know very little about the lives of The Williams Sisters, & had no preconceived notions about Richard Williams. That being said, I found Smith’s performance enthralling and the tale itself fascinating. Rotten Tomatoes has it rated 91% fresh, and I have to agree.

It’s time or another break, but we’ll be  back soon with the exciting climax of the 2021 Sammys!!

Winning & Musing…Volume 3.20

We meet again…five months later. The good news is there have been sporting events that we can talk about. Having said that, 2020 has been an undeniably challenging time to be a fan. Will the new year see a return to normalcy?? Probably not, ateast at first. But we’ll watch anyway, and occasionally ponder related topics right here.

 

 

 

 

As happy as I am that the NFL & NCAA have given us a football season the fact is it just isn’t the same. It’s so strange to watch a game being played in an empty or nearly empty stadium. We didn’t do our normal preseason poll or NFL preview because I just didn’t know what to expect. My nephew & I haven’t done our weekly picks like in years past and we won’t be picking bowl games (several of which have been canceled anyway). There have been way too many games canceled and players who have missed time after testing positive for The Sickness or being in close proximity to others who have tested positive. Kudos to all involved for making the effort and taking the risk, but even though I have watched I am admittedly not as invested as usual.

 

 

I was dealing with my own (non-Covid) health issues this past summer, so I really didn’t pay all that much attention to the abbreviated baseball season or the bubble-wrapped NBA playoffs. The Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series and the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA title, so in a world turned upside down I suppose two big city franchises with enough money to buy their championship provided some semblance of status quo normalcy. Also, the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup, but honestly I had to look that up because I paid even less attention to hockey this season than usual.

 

 

I appreciate the fact that the Indianapolis 500 and The Masters were both rescheduled instead of being outright cancelled, but as a fan it just didn’t work for me. I watched a little bit of The Masters, but was mostly focused on football that weekend, as I’m sure most fans were. I didn’t even know the Indy 500 was on until about an hour after it was over. I just completely forgot about it. Congrats to whoever won each event, but I don’t recall who that was and at the moment it’s not important enough to me to look it up.

 

 

Folks, we need to get something straight. Just because a fan is upset at their team losing and expresses some negativity does not mean they aren’t a “real” fan. I saw this kind of debate rear its ugly head after my Pittsburgh Steelers had their hot start come to a screeching halt and lost a couple of games. Fans were upset…mad at the NFL for bumbling the rescheduling of games and seeming to apply the rules differently to different teams, angry about wide receivers dropping way too many balls, frustrated by mounting injuries to the team, peeved at sports media types who were questioning the Steelers legitimacy even before they lost, disappointed by questionable coaching strategies, and of course debating dubious calls by referees. In my opinion this is normal fan behavior. However, there are those who say anyone who expresses any kind of doubts or frustration aren’t true fans. That’s poppycock. My perspective has always been the irritated passion a fan exhibits when things aren’t going well proves just how deep & fervent their fandom really is, contrary to the kind of blindly loyal fan who acts like Kevin Bacon at the end of Animal House, shouting “All is well!! Remain calm!!”, even as chaos reigns down all around him.

 

 

It would be negligent for me not to address the latest in the PC Police’s War on Sports, and guess what…the fans are losing. In the midst of the uproar caused by the #BlackLivesMatter hoopla last summer the NFL’s Washington Redskins finally bowed to media created pressure and dropped the “offensive” nickname. They’ve played this entire season as the Washington Football Team, which is all kinds of stupid. And now the Cleveland Indians have announced plans to drop their century old moniker. I’ve just never understood how anyone could possibly be offended by a sports team honoring a group of people by naming their team after them. Have y’all ever  had a friend or family member name their baby or even a pet after you?? It’s meant as a compliment. Do you know how thrilled I’d be if West Virginia got an NFL/NBA/MLB/NHL franchise and called them the West Virginia Sams?? I’d be verklempt!! But that’s what liberals do in the name of “progress”. They suck all the joy out of the room, like sort of giant, evil vacuum. It is what it is, and it makes me sad.

 

 

I’m not sure what the answer is, but in no way do I feel like an Ohio State Buckeyes team that has only played six games should be in the College Football Playoff. In retrospect this would have been the perfect year to do a test run of an expanded playoff with 8 or even 16 teams. I won’t ride the powers-that-be too much for their lack of foresight because they, just like so many of us in all walks of life, have been making things up on the fly in the midst of all the craziness, but it would’ve been nice to see some fairness & common sense implemented instead of what it looks like is happening, which seems to be “let’s do whatever we can to get four traditional power programs in the playoff by any means necessary because it’ll be good for TV ratings”.

The Polarity of Memorial Day

All is repose and peace. Untrampled lies the sod. The shouts of battle cease…it is the Truce of God! Rest comrades…rest and sleep! The thoughts of men shall be as sentinels to keep your rest from danger free. Your silent tents of green we deck with fragrant flowers. Yours has the suffering been…the memory shall be ours. –  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

 

 

Once upon a time what is now referred to as bipolar disorder was known as manic depression, while what we presently call dissociative identity disorder was commonly christened split or multiple personalities. Memorial Day has a little in common with both.

 

When I was a kid I used to get Memorial Day and Veterans Day confused (and that’s without throwing Armed Forces Day into the mix), but there is a subtle yet significant difference. Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving, whereas Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans. In other words, though it may seem counterintuitive, Memorial Day is not the time to thank current or retired soldiers for their service. It is my understanding that, while most would likely smile & nod and give an appreciative “You’re Welcome”, others might possibly be offended because…well…they’re not dead, and probably have military friends & family that are. To add to the confusion, since 1950 Armed Forces Day has been celebrated about a week before Memorial Day on the third Saturday in May, and it specifically honors those currently serving in the U.S. military. Armed Forces Day doesn’t seem to resonate all that much with the general public, and there are plausible reasons for that, not the least of which is its redundancy and the fact that it doesn’t provide a three day weekend.

 

Memorial Day was initially known as Decoration Day and originated in the aftermath of The Civil War, which ended in 1865 after more than 620,000 casualties… more lives lost than during any military campaign in American history. The astounding number of deaths led to the establishment of the country’s first national cemeteries, and on May 5, 1868 General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic…an organization of Union veterans founded in Decatur, Illinois…established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the Union war dead with flowers. General Logan stated “Let us then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime. Let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor. Let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow & orphan.” President Ulysses S. Grant presided over the first Decoration Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery (which until 1864 had been Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s plantation), and General James Garfield (who would become President just thirteen years later) made a speech before 5000 participants decorated the graves of 20,000 Union & Confederate soldiers.

 

The preferred name for the holiday gradually changed from Decoration Day to Memorial Day, which was first used in 1882, and as early as the 1890’s some observed a “growing tendency to make Memorial Day an occasion for festivity and indulgence in games & sports foreign to the purpose of the day and the sacred spirit which ought to characterize it”, and professed “pastimes and all amusements on Memorial Day as inconsistent with the proper purposes of the day.” It probably didn’t help that perception when The Indianapolis 500 ran its inaugural race on Memorial Day in 1911 and continued to do so until the early 70’s when the event was permanently moved to Sunday as part of the long holiday weekend. In the late 19th century there were only a handful of holidays on which workers got a day off, so Decoration Day became an unusual respite from the daily grind, an opportunity for sports fans to attend afternoon games or families to take excursions. It soon became common practice to split the difference on Memorial Day, visiting a cemetery in the morning then relaxing in the afternoon.

 

As the 20th century dawned a younger generation who hardly remembered The Civil War was emerging, but Memorial Day lived on. By then, it was well entrenched in American social life and didn’t require a direct connection to war to be meaningful. But it wasn’t long until World War I started and the United States found itself entangled in another major conflict, and so Memorial Day evolved to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars. Just a few decades later WWII happened, which further solidified the holiday.

 

Charleston SC, Waterloo NY, Columbus GA, and various other towns all claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. Some assert that the first Memorial Day was held in April 1865 when a group of former slaves created a proper burial site for more than 250 Union soldiers at a Charleston horse track. But on May 26, 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson designated an official birthplace of the holiday by signing a proclamation naming Waterloo as the holder of the title. Waterloo earned this distinction because in the summer of 1865 a local pharmacist named Henry C. Welles came up with the idea to place flowers on the graves of those who fought in The Civil War and hosted an annual community-wide event, during which businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flags as well as flowers.

 

From 1868 to 1970 Memorial Day was annually observed on May 30, with some believing that the date was chosen because it is not the anniversary of any particular battle, while others say it is an optimal date for flowers to be in bloom. Both assertions are probably true.

 

On June 28, 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved three holidays from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to increase the number of three-day weekends for federal employees. Washington’s Birthday in February and Veteran’s Day in November were also changed (although Veteran’s Day was later moved permanently back to November 11 in 1978), and Columbus Day was established. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May, with the law taking effect in 1971.

 

And this is where the dichotomy really began to propagate.

 

Many opine that changing the date merely to create a long weekend diluted the meaning of Memorial Day, turning it into “a three-day nationwide hootenanny that seems to have lost much of its original purpose”. With its move to Monday in the 1970s increasing commercialization also turned the weekend into an occasion not just for sports & vacations, but for shopping as well.

 

In addition to the debate about long weekends & the date of Memorial Day, we must also consider the evolution of the summer season. Meteorologically & astronomically speaking summer officially begins with the summer solstice on June 21 and ends with the autumnal equinox on September 21. However, in the late 19th century standardization reforms in education led to the creation of the nine month school calendar with which we are all familiar, meaning that children typically begin school in early September and end their year in late May. This essentially redefined summer from a cultural perspective to being June, July, & August, and created a “summer leisure economy” in which families are encouraged to go outside, relax, & have fun. It became logical to bookend summer with Memorial Day and Labor Day. Kicking off summer with Memorial Day gives it a sense of anticipation, a sense of good things & coming attractions when summer is perfect and it hasn’t even happened yet.

 

It seems natural that as individual sorrow fades a tragic event gradually loses its impact, and so a Memorial Day tug-of-war between solemn remembrance and summertime fun has ebbed & flowed for a century & a half. The holiday was conceived in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. After a few decades those tear-stained memories faded, but then two World Wars happened, which galvanized the nation. Vietnam came along in the 60’s, but America…unlike during previous military conflicts…became fragmented about what it meant for an American soldier to die and the purpose of war in general. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that patriotism rebounded as a foundational aspect of the Reagan Revolution, and then there was another period of ambivalence & malaise before the tragic events of September 11, 2001 led to renewed respect & appreciation for our military.

 

So the question remains: how should we treat and “celebrate” Memorial Day?? I don’t know if there is a simple answer, but I certainly have a few opinions.

 

First of all, I have always been uncomfortable with people wishing each other a “Happy” Memorial Day. It’s kind of like running into an old friend at a funeral and enthusiastically saying “It’s great to see you!!”. It may be nice to catch up with a friend, but the venue and the occasion certainly aren’t joyful. Some things are just better left unsaid.

 

Secondly, the holiday is clearly going to mean something different to folks depending on the circumstances. For those of us who haven’t had any family or close friends die while serving in the military it really is simply a fun weekend and the kickoff for summer, and kids are justifiably excited about getting a break from school or graduating. However…especially with our nation’s involvement in places like Iraq & Afghanistan in the past 17 years…there are plenty of spouses, families, & friends mourning the loss of a loved one, and we must be respectful of that fact.

 

In 2000 Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act, meaning that all Americans are supposed to pause for a minute of silence at 3pm on Memorial Day to pay tribute to the men & women who have died while serving the nation. If this is the first time you’ve heard of that legislation you aren’t alone…I didn’t know about it either, which calls into question its efficacy.

 

There is a school of thought that going out & enjoying yourself on Memorial Day…whether that means swimming, shopping, a picnic, attending a concert, chillin’ out with a good book, or going to a movie…is appropriate because it is exercising the very freedom that so many gave their lives to secure, and I don’t necessarily disagree. That being said, I am reminded of the constant refrain every December about the commercialization of Christmas, which has minimized “the reason for the season”. In the same way that I take no issue with Santa Claus, It’s A Wonderful Life, or The Chipmunks crooning about hula hoops as long as proper reverence is given to celebrating the birth of Christ, I happily embrace the frivolity of summer’s grand opening weekend on the condition that we respect our military, appreciate their sacrifice, & honor fallen heroes.