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Memorial Day reflection


Jerry Rader remembers when Memorial Day was different.

Now 79, he grew up in rural Webster County — in the home where he still resides — and carries connections to rural Ozarks life than most recall today.

For years, those ties have led him to spend much of his Memorial Day weekends at the Black Oak Freewill Baptist Church’s cemetery.

He sits there, often in his car, specifically so he can chat with old friends who come to pay their respects to loved ones. From his perspective, it’s a once-a-year chance to visit with folks who otherwise he might not see.

And there are a number to talk with, if a small snapshot on Sunday afternoon is any indication. Some folks he knows, some he doesn’t. But there is room for a lot of hellos and hugs and reconnecting at an important place that links lives.

“Memorial Day was different back when I was growing up,” Jerry says of his growing-up years, when the holiday was still known as Decoration Day. “They had it on the 30th and this whole parking lot would be full of cars. There would be groups under the trees visiting and it was just about an all-day thing.

“My dad would generally come down right after noon, and we’d stay until time to go home and milk the cows.

“I remember my mom talking about people coming down and set up under a shade tree. They’d bring what they called ‘sawhorses’ and boards and make a table, and put a table cloth over it and set down the food and made the day out of it.”

Those memories of his mother, Mildred Rader, began in the ‘20s. Jerry’s recollections begin in the ‘50s, when he attended the one-room Black Oak School for his first year of class.

As an adult, he got involved at the next-door church and has been so ever since.

He joined the cemetery board in the ‘90s, and still puts out flags for veterans, stakes out graves, talks with people who might want to be buried there, and oversees others needs.

“I guess I’ve got a permanent job,” he says. “I told somebody yesterday or day before, it’s kind of like marriage: ’Til death do us part.’

“I really do wish someone younger would take it over because I just can’t take care of things like when I did when I started.”

Until that day comes, or perhaps even beyond it, Jerry lives a connection with community — representing past and present — that is unusual in this day and age.

Of one-room schools, and cooperative work among farmers, and a sense of shared history through staying in the same community for a lifetime — and beyond.


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