You remember the weirdest things. When I think of Memorial Day, I think of Hoodsie Cups. Honest to God.
When I was a child, back in the Dark Ages, it was shortly after the end of World War II (I was alive for Pearl Harbor) and Memorial Day was a huge thing, just after Christmas and Thanksgiving. Everyone in the Boston neighborhoods had a veteran in the family or had lost someone in the war. All of my uncles were battered in the war. One was in a German prison camp after he jumped into France on D-Day. Another fought with Merrill’s Marauders.
Everyone went to the cemetery for the Memorial Day ceremonies. I mean everyone. The very best trumpet player from St. Theresa’s Church band got to play taps to conclude the ceremony. Then there was the 21-gun salute and every boy scrambled to collect the rifle shells in the cemetery grass.
We marched along with the band, or rode our bikes to the Legion Hall near Billings Field where there were free, endless hot dogs and Cokes. But the best part of the holiday was those Hoodsie Cups.
This was a relatively simple treat made by the Hood Milk Co., composed of vanilla and chocolate ice cream. But we thought it was the best, most sophisticated dessert ever. If you were cool, you would eat all of the vanilla before you started on the chocolate.
You would eat the ice cream with a tiny wooden spoon and eat it as fast as you could, to get back in line for another one.
Once you finished the ice cream, you took that wooden spoon and scraped the wax off the cover, to see what was underneath. If you were lucky, it would reveal the picture of a Western hero like “Hoot” Gibson or Tom Mix. I told you I was old.
You jammed these covers into your pocket, one on top of the other in an ice cream mess, until you got home. Then, your poor mother had to pick the covers apart before she washed your jeans, which we called dungarees. I told you I was old.
You can argue all day about the origins of the holiday.
Yale professor David Blight traces it back to Charleston, S.C., when freed slaves dug up a mass grave of Union soldiers who died in a Confederate prison camp, then buried them with honor in individual graves on May 1, 1865. The Charleston newspaper reported that a crowd of 10,000, mostly former slaves, attended the ceremony. Blight said that was the first Decoration Day.
Waterloo, N.Y., claims it held the first Decoration Day on May 5, 1866, when it decorated soldiers’ graves with flags. The Waterloo ceremony grew to an annual tradition that came to the attention of Gen. John A. Logan. As commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, Gen. Logan proclaimed Decoration Day as a national holiday on May 30, 1868.
Decoration Day was renamed Memorial Day in 1882. Memorial Day became even more celebrated after World War II, but was not officially adopted by federal law until 1967, surprisingly.
As a small-town reporter for 30 years, I have watched attendance at the Memorial Day ceremonies dwindle every year. Sometimes we would cover two or three ceremonies on the long holiday. I always liked the St. George ceremony where they cast a wreath upon the harbor water to remember those lost at sea, as well as in wars. It seemed like there was a lost fisherman or two every year.
The crowds seemed to get smaller and smaller. Even I don’t go anymore. Maybe they should start serving Hoodsie Cups again.