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The Real Memorial Day – May 30

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Stone County Custom & Tradition

The Real Memorial Day


May 30

by Junior Warren

In the Good Old USA, the Memorial Day Weekend signals the Official Start of Summer. From the Memorial Day Weekend to the Labor Day Weekend, Americans grab their calendars and start trying to pencil in the dates for their long awaited summer vacations.

Meanwhile, in the hills of Stone County, Missouri, the Memorial Day Weekend for the Opal M. DeLong-Warren Family is about a family custom and tradition.

A Memorial Day 2010 arrangement made by Christy Warren

Charles H. and Martha L. Delong Family loaded their earthly belongings into a Conestoga wagon at the beginning of the 1900s and made the trek from northern Missouri to Stone County, Missouri, in southwestern Missouri.

At the time, “Charley” and Martha had their eldest son, Richard, a small boy about two years old, who would grow to be a farmer in Stone County.

Richard B. DeLong

Yocum Pond Grave Digger

In his youth, Richard became one of the grave diggers at the Yocum Pond Cemetery, near Reeds Spring. In the days before backhoes, graves were dug by local men in the community. Richard B. DeLong dug many of the graves before backhoes began to be used.

As late as the late 1960s, I remember being at the cemetery on Memorial Day and strangers would come up to Uncle Richard and they would ask if he knew where a family member had been buried. Uncle Richard would usually nod, point and start walking in the direction of the grave. Along the way, he would tell them information about the person and the circumstances surrounding the funeral.

During the Great Depression, Uncle Richard explained that some of the local families didn’t have the money for headstones. Usually, they would try to write the information on a large rock or wooden board or cross. Over time some of the markers would rot away or be removed, then, the only way a descendant could find an unmarked grave would be to try and find one of the original gravediggers.

Even in the 1960s, there were people who decided not to spend money on tombstones, which meant the graves went unmarked. Uncle Richard made less than favorable comments about some of the family members who seemed to cheap or greedy to spend a few dollars for a headstone.

In his lifetime, Richard B. DeLong cared for the family graves at Yocum Pond. Throughout the years, he would make occasional trips to the cemetery to make sure the grass was mowed and weeds had been pulled from around the headstones. Even the rock hard soil of Stone County tends to settle over a grave after a few months and the result is a sunken appearance in the earth. The solution is to apply fresh soil to the grave.

Filling Up The Graves”

A couple of weeks, before Memorial Day, Uncle Richard would always put soil in the back of his 1952 GMC pickup and drive out to the graves to put the soil on the graves. For a time in the 1970s there was a large pile of soil, near the entrance to Yocum Pond that family members could use to “fill in the graves. This “filling up the graves” procedure was the way to maintain the grave to present the traditional appearance. To my knowledge, there has always been a cemetery caretaker for Yocum Pond, still throughout his life, Richard B. DeLong took care of all the landscaping requirements of the DeLong family graves. The caretakers would mow around the headstones before Memorial Day but two or three days before May 30, Uncle Richard would load his lawnmower into his pickup and make sure the graves were ready for memorial day.

Holiday Shuffle

During the 1970s, the U.S. Government began playing with the calendar and moving around holidays. In elementary school it had been a tradition to observe Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12, and Washington’s Birthday, February 22. As a grade school student – there was “no school” on those days. We even got to celebrate Columbus Day, October 12. By the 1970s Uncle Sam began to shuffle holidays like cards in a deck. Washington and Lincoln’s birthday got merged into the newly created “President’s Day.” Uncle Richard didn’t pay any attention to Uncle Sam shuffling holidays until the U.S. Government took it upon themselves to start hopscotching Memorial Day around the calendar.

In the Charles H. and Martha L. DeLong Family, it was Richard B. DeLong, who proclaimed Memorial Day to be May 30.

“It doesn’t matter what day the government picks for Memorial Day. I’m going to keep celebrating ‘The Real Memorial Day – May 30″  Richard B. DeLong

Richard B. Delong’s dedication to keeping May 30th as the real Memorial Day meant that family would go to visit and decorate the graves on May 30. True, the upkeep of the graves were a family tradition of the DeLong family, but, for Richard DeLong, the upkeep of the graves was a labor of love for him. Uncle Richard is the only person I ever knew who truly looked forward to Memorial Day. He truly lived for May 30.

Perhaps, God does have a sense of irony. Richard DeLong left the Land Of The Living on one of his Memorial Days – May 30.

Opal M. DeLong – Warren

Matriarch

Charley and Martha DeLong, originally settled ,near Reeds Spring , in Stone County, Missouri. Before The Great Depression in the 1930s, they would move to a homestead, known as “The Old Sheriff Oliver Place,” between Abesville and Galena, Missouri.

Charley and Martha’s only daughter, Opal, would go to school in Peach Tree Holler, near Reeds Spring. The old one room schoolhouse that she attended would eventually be moved to Silver Dollar City and be used as a church. When Opal attended the school, it was called “Wilson’s Creek” and she graduated from the eighth grade in that building.

By the time, Opal’s mom and dad had moved “out on the highway,” she was a young woman, who had set out to find her place in the world. World War II would find Opal working as a welder in the Todd Houston Shipyard in Houston, Texas.

By 1960, she had returned to Stone County to “take care of her mother and bachelor brother” – Uncle Richard. From the 1960s until her death, Opal M. DeLong Warren handled the funeral arrangements for the DeLong family and the floral arrangements for Memorial Day.

All families have their disagreements through the years. Sometimes a family is blessed to have a diplomat in their ranks. Opal M. DeLong-Warren, my mother, proved to be the diplomat. Uncle Willie had been killed at a chivarie, near Reeds Spring, in the 1930s. In my lifetime, momma, always did her best to look out for and protect her mother and brothers: Richard, Joe and Hobert to the best of her abilities. Uncle Hobert and Uncle Joe had their own families.

In my lifetime, Uncle Richard always made sure the graves looked immaculate. Opal M. DeLong Warren always made sure all the “DeLong graves” had flowers. Momma always shopped for the flowers and eventually came to rely on a local woman to make the wreaths for the family headstones. Now, my wife, Christy, shops for the flowers, foam and artistic accessories to make the wreathes for the headstones.

The DeLong Graves

Life and Death being the human condition, the DeLong Graves change through the years. Upon my mother’s death, my wife and I accepted the tradition of decorating the graves that my mother had always made sure got decorated. There are other DeLong graves in Yocum Pond, but, those DeLongs have their own family members who should be able to decorate their graves.

C.J. Bellamy, “Grandma Bellamy,” I never met her. She was my mother’s grandmother. She died about a quarter of a century before I was born. The stories that my mother told me of Grandma Bellamy is that she was a strong willed woman – stubborn. I have never found any documentation to prove that she was a suffragette and she lived long before the 1970’s definition of feminist. Yet, she was a woman, who apparently was stubborn.

She outlived one husband. When her second husband decided he didn’t want to leave northern Missouri for Stone County, Missouri; she left him. Grandma Bellamy decided she wanted to live with one of her daughters and her new husband, so C.J. Bellamy left her second husband.

Grandma Bellamy is legendary for her strong-willed nature. She is also remembered to be a practical business woman.

Daniel Salsbery, “Uncle Dan,” is a son of Grandma Bellamy. He was a farmer in Stone County, Missouri.

"Uncle Daniel" Salsbery's headstone before the flowers were added for Memorial Day 2009.

Earl DeLong, “Uncle Earl,” is a Springfield, Missouri relative resting in Yocum Pond. In the 1930s, during The Great Depression, Grandma DeLong and my mother told me how hard it was “to make ends meet” and earn a living day to day.

"Uncle Earl" DeLong's headstone displays the Memorial Day 2009 flowers.

When “Uncle Earl” died apparently some of the relatives believed the DeLongs of Stone County were better able to afford funeral expenses. The story that I always heard is that is why his body was brought to Yocum Pond for burial.

Willie DeLong, “Uncle Willie,” is one of my mother’s brothers. He had the reputation of being “The Outdoors man” He loved to fish and hunt. Grandma said he would spend weeks camped out on the banks of the James River. Uncle Willie was murdered at a local “chivarie,” which was basically an Ozarks wedding reception in the 1930s.

Charles H. and Martha L. DeLong, “Grandma and Grandpa DeLong,” I never met grandpa, but the numerous stories that I’ve heard about him; he was an interesting man. Grandma is the type of woman, who should have here own biography of wit and wisdom on the shelf of the local library.

Richard B. DeLong, “Uncle Richard,” was a Stone County, Missouri farmer. Paint a portrait of the American farmer behind a team of horses and don’t be surprised if the man looks like Richard DeLong. For years, he plowed the fields with two Clydesdale named “Bob and Fred.” He chewed “Day’s Work” and “Good Money” chewing tobacco. Even though he bought a narrow front end John Deere tractor, he sometimes found it faster and more efficient to hook up “Old Kate,” his white mule, and “Hazel,” his young brown mule to the plow.

Grandma said Uncle Richard had a girlfriend when he was a teenager. Everyone in the family always said, “the girl ran off and married someone else.” He never had another girlfriend.

Uncle Richard was hard of hearing, which meant that he spoke in a loud voice. An unusual brain condition in his middle age years gave him a speech impediment, which meant that sometimes I got to act as a translator for him because strangers didn’t always understand what he was trying to say. He had a great sense of humor and his ideas of entertainment meant watching “wrestling” on the small rabbit-eared black and white TV.

Taking a “day off” from farming meant it was Monday and Uncle Richard was going to Noel Cox’s Sale Barn in Ozark. Sometimes, he would go to buy cattle, but usually, he just like to watch the cattle, goats, and horses sell. It also gave him a chance to see and visit with old friends and other farmers. Every time I smell cow manure and hamburgers, I remember going with Uncle Richard to the sale barn. We always made a day of it. Lunch meant that we would be eating in the sale barn cafe. In those days, the aroma of the sale barn barnyards found their way into the cafe every time the door opened or closed.

Evening entertainment for Uncle Richard meant that it was Thursday night and time to go to “Play Night” at the Coon Ridge Saddle Club. We would sit on the benches and watch kids and some grown ups riding horses and practicing for upcoming horse shows and rodeos by honing their barrel racing skills. One of Uncle Richard’s closest friends was Fred Atchison. We’d take our seat on the bleachers to watch the riders.

Some Thursday evenings, the black stake bed Ford truck would arrive. Fred’s kids or grandkids would unload their horses and lead them in the ring to perform. Fred would sit up by Uncle Richard and I on the bleachers. The two men would talk about days gone by and farming. I’d usually ease down off the bleachers and try to convince one of the young riders to let me ride their horse. Sometimes I got to ride and sometimes I didn’t, but, it was always fun going anywhere with Uncle Richard.

Samuel E. Warren and Opal M. DeLong Warren, “Dad and Mom” Daddy was a short haul East Texas trucker that got drafted by Uncle Sam to serve in World War II in the European and Pacific Theaters of Operation. He grew up on a farm in Simpsonville, Texas, near Winnsboro and Gilmer. After the war, he worked at Cameron Iron Works in Houston, Texas. He didn’t invent the word, “workaholic,” but he embodied every letter. In addition to working full time at Cameron’s, he worked part time as a bartender at Cooks Hoedown and later a bartender and bouncer at the Dome Shadow in Houston, Texas. He was always passionate about a job getting done right.

Opal M. Warren, my mother, is one of those people, who always seemed to be more myth than human. She represented the embodiment of the word, “Family.” She always went “above and beyond” to help grandma and Uncle Richard. When ever one of her brothers called her, then, momma would be there to help out. She may not of been one of Missouri’s first women hog farmers, but she managed 25 head of hogs from Hampshire to Duroc. Like her grandmother, C.J. Bellamy, Opal M. Warren was a practical business woman, who was strong-willed and downright stubborn.

Willie’s Children

Opal M DeLong Warren always tried to keep in touch with family members throughout the United States. It was understood if you were trying to reach the Charles H. and Martha L. DeLong Family that your point of contact would be Opal Warren, in the days before computers. She always responded to the phone calls and letters.

Opal Warren served not only as the Guardian of the DeLong Family, she also became the Protector of the Family History with the passion expected of a historian working for the United Kingdom’s College of Arms in London.

Momma’s brother Willie had been murdered in the 1930s, so she always tried to stay in touch with his children. Harold DeLong, the son of Willie DeLong, served in the U.S. Army. His whereabouts are unknown.

Reva DeLong, Willie’s daughter was born after her father died. Grandma DeLong and Momma made it a point to tell Reva all the stories that they could remember about Willie, her father. As a young girl, Reva spent some time living with her Aunt Opal in Houston, Texas. Opal Warren loved to tell the story of how everyone though Reva was her little sister. Reva’s funeral was held in Minnesota.

Other DeLong Graves

There are other DeLong Graves in Yocum Pond, but these graves are probably related to Hobert or Joe DeLong. Uncle Hobert and Uncle Joe had their own families, so I will leave the documentation and listing of those graves to those family members who are responsible for the care and maintenance of those graves.

Respect For The Dead

The Charles H. and Martha L. DeLong family’s commitment to “The Real Memorial Day of May 30” is a tradition that is part of the overall Big Picture of the DeLong family’s attention to the graves at Yocum Pond.

America is a hodge podge of cultural ideas and identities. Likewise customs and traditions evolve and change over time. Ozarks customs are slow to change. While “Cremation” may be a cheaper alternative that the traditional expense of a funeral; it was never an acceptable alternative for the Charles H. and Martha L. DeLong Family, nor, was it ever considered when Opal M. DeLong-Warren made the funeral arrangements. In the 1960s and 1970s, some local farmers would burn their trash. The thinking of the day was simple: “You burn trash; not people.”

The Charles H. and Martha L. DeLong Family of Stone County always taught the belief of “Respect For The Dead.”

As a child, I realized on Memorial Day, when you went to the cemetery, you stayed glued to Uncle Richard. I was taught to always have a respectful attitude in the cemetery. When I was a child, Uncle Richard remind me time and again about “watch were you step.” Like a drill sergeant, he always reminded me never to walk on or step on a grave.

DeLong Family Memorial Day

Photography Tradition

My mother, Opal M. DeLong Warren as a young girl saved money for film. She had a changing arsenal of cameras through the years. Her main specification in cameras was “the simpler the better.” Throughout her life, Opal M Warren documented birthdays, holidays, graduations, weddings and special events in pictures. For a “shutterbug” like my Pisces mother, Memorial Day meant taking the camera to the cemetery. Once a headstone was decorated, she took a picture of each and every headstone. She did it to remember what the flower arrangements look like. I continue the tradition.

Ancestor Worship

The Charles H. and Martha L. DeLong Family always honored and respected the memories of family members who had passed from this life. The DeLong Family observances were not what would be considered ancestor worship.

My childhood memories of Memorial Day meant that Uncle Richard would spend the day walking between the graves and looking at the appearance and the floral decorations. He would tell you stories about the family member, whose name appeared on the headstone. If someone asked where someone was buried he would walk the person to the grave and tell them stories about the person and the funeral.

In a poetic sense, on Memorial Day, I see the man with the long face, the work shirt and the overalls walking among the graves. Regardless, who the man may actually be; I see Richard B. DeLong, “Uncle Richard” walking among the headstones, reading the names and the dates and commenting on the flowers.

My Mentors

Richard B. DeLong, “Uncle Richard” taught me respect for tradition reminds you that you are connected to the ancestors that went before you.

Martha L. Marcum – DeLong, “Grandma DeLong,” had an Irish, Cherokee background and lived in a community that had an intense belief in Christianity. Other grandchildren, might have had different experiences, but, grandma never talked or preached religion at me. I did learn from grandma that by remembering the history and stories of your ancestors you remain connected through the ages.

Opal M. DeLong Warren, “Momma,” got exposed to the Pentecostal religion as a young girl. At an early age, my mother told me she would never tell me what religion I had to believe in. She kept her promise. I could never get momma to discuss religion or politics; and I tried several times through the years. I learned from my mother to be flexible with religious ideas, but to observe family customs because the customs remind you that family struggles on from generation to generation.

Junior Warren, thanks to my grandmother and mother, I have always been interested in history. Born a Scorpio, I love mystery. There is no bigger mystery than the After Life. The DeLong Family Commandment of Respect for the Dead has driven me on to examine customs and traditions relating to death. The experience of being able to travel to other countries, exposed me to other cultures that have their own customs and traditions of relating to ancestors.

Catholicism proved to be an important religion in the Republic of the Philippines in the 1980s.

I’ve been exposed to the Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran and Methodist religions. I’ve been exposed to Catholicism and Buddhism.  I chose a spiritual path that would allow me to accept and reject dogmas and beliefs that feel comfortable to me, rather than signing on to any one religion. If there are any DeLongs or Warrens that can be pointed to for “ancestor worship”; it is me. In the 21st Century, I do magick and blend ancestral customs and traditions into the customs and traditions that I was taught.

Uncle Richard, Grandma DeLong and Momma’s lessons last throughout the years. Each May, I know it is time to begin the preparations for Memorial Day. Memories of childhood and adulthood arise and I can’t help to smile as various memories from the years come to mind. My only major concern is come May 30, will Uncle Richard be looking over my shoulder, pleased with my arrangement of the decorations on The Real Memorial Day- May 30.

Junior Warren

For more information on the history and ancestors of Stone County, Missouri visit the US Gen Web site at http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~mostone/stone.htm

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8 Responses

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  1. […] My only major concern is come May 30, will Uncle Richard be looking over my shoulder, pleased with my arrangement of the decorations on The Real Memorial Day – May 30. Junior Warren. For more information on the history and ancestors of …Continued […]

  2. […] My only major concern is come May 30, will Uncle Richard be looking over my shoulder, pleased with my arrangement of the decorations on The Real Memorial Day – May 30. Junior Warren. For more information on the history and ancestors of …Continued […]

  3. samwarren55.wordpress.com’s done it again! Great article!

    Israel Manley

    May 27, 2010 at 5:52 PM

  4. Heh I’m actually the only comment to your incredible post?

    Lee Bernstein

    May 31, 2010 at 9:11 PM

    • Thank you for the comments. On a good day I try to be a combination of Vance Randolph and Mark Twain. 🙂

      Sam

      samwarren55

      June 5, 2010 at 2:18 PM

  5. I am an editor for Christian.com which is a social network dedicated to the christian community. As I look through your web site I feel a collaboration is at hand. I would be inclined to acknowledge your website offering it to our users as I’m sure our Pentecostal audience would benefit from what your site has to offer. I look forward to your thoughts or questions regarding the matter.

    Vicky Silvers
    vicky.silvers@gmail.com

    Vickey Silvers

    June 4, 2010 at 10:29 PM

    • Miss Silvers,

      My mother grew up a Pentecostal girl in Stone County, Missouri. My wife is a Filipina Catholic. I tend to look at Spiritual, rather, than any individual Orthodox religion. I am the last person on the planet, who would even remotely be considered, “Conservative.” I always welcome people’s comments and feedback.

      I am, however, past the point of “collaboration.” I worked for military newspapers for about 20 years. I had to tweak and correct copy to fit “The Big Picture” objectives of the day. Many times, I could only grit my teeth while political drivel got published under my byline. Those days are over.

      This blog is my Soap Box To The World.

      This blog has evolved over time. It will probably eventually be a site where people can find stories about Stone County, Missouri primarily. But, I keep my options open to speak out on other matters.

      My views are my own. I’m very pro-Military. I’m very pro-American. I am very anti-Republican.

      I welcome feedback from readers, but, I don’t seek any collaboration. I was born in The Lone Star State of Sam Houston and grew up in The Show Me State of Mark Twain, thus, I am who I am and I am Sam – Samuel E Warren Jr

      Thank you for your comments.

      Sam

      samwarren55

      June 5, 2010 at 12:48 AM


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