This is Memorial Day weekend and for many marks the beginning of the summer season.

People will spend time this weekend mowing lawns, planting gardens, golfing, barbecuing and any number of other activities tied to warmer weather.

This year those activities may include participating in the unveiling of the Fenimore Art Museum’s newest acquisition _ a thirty-foot Haida totem pole as well as the opening of the John Singer Sargent exhibition.

The Museum opens its doors at 10 a.m. Saturday offering the first public glimpses of the new exhibition ``John Singer Sargent: Portraits in Praise of Women.’’

This major exhibition features 25 works by John Singer Sargent, the foremost American portrait painter of the late 19th-century.

At 1 p.m., the Museum unveils the latest addition to the Thaw Collection of American Indian Art _ a Haida Totem Pole carved by Reg Davidson, Haida artist and master carver.

The 30-foot tall, 4-foot wide cedar carving will showcase the work of a contemporary Native artist to a large public audience.

What has become a major three-day holiday weekend was originally a time set aside when we honor the courage of those Americans who put their lives on the line to protect or defend the principles that bind us as a nation. Some were drafted, some went voluntarily, but they all fought to give us the lives we have today.

The holiday began following the Civil War and was originally known as Decoration Day _ a time when the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers were decorated to commemorate their sacrifice.

On May 5, 1868, General John Logan, the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued a proclamation declaring May 30 as a day to honor Civil War soldiers by placing  flowers on their graves.

Logan’s General Order No. 11 reads: ``The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.’’

In 1873 New York became the first state to officially recognize the Decoration Day holiday.

There are many towns and villages in the north and south that claimed to be the birthplace of the holiday because of celebrations that took place between the end of the Civil War and Logan’s 1868 proclamation.

But in 1966, President Lyndon Johnson declared that Waterloo, N.Y. was the birthplace of Memorial Day. The community began its annual celebration of Decoration Day on May 5, 1866.

Businesses were closed and the graves of soldiers were decorated with flowers and flags.

Waterloo will celebrate its 144th consecutive Memorial Day celebration on the traditional May 30 date.

The men and women who served, and especially those who lost their lives, deserve our respect and thoughts this weekend. They were willing to risk their lives for our country. The veterans of all wars should be remembered for the sacrifices they made.

One way to honor their sacrifices is to attend one of the Memorial Day parades on Monday. In Cooperstown, the parade will begin at the Vet’s Club on Main St. at 11 a.m. and end at the monument on Pine Blvd. In Cherry Valley, the parade will begin at 10 a.m. and proceed from Church St. to the cemetery on Alden St. And in Milford, the parade starts at 10 a.m. It forms at the school, goes down West Main Street, then down Division Street, to Center Street and then onto Main Street where it ends in the cemetery.

Over the years, the meaning of Memorial Day has been forgotten by many Americans as the three-day weekend holiday has become synonymous with the start of summer.

This year, as you enjoy what is forecast to be a warm, sunny weekend, make sure you take time to remember the real meaning of Memorial Day.

Another way is by participating in the National Moment of Remembrance, which was created by the White House Commission on Remembrance to help reestablish the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day. The Moment takes place at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day because it is the time when most Americans are enjoying their freedoms.

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