Decorating family graves for Memorial Day can teach a person some genealogy along with a bit of history.

Since Dad was career Army, we were never around to decorate graves in Oklahoma on either side of the family.

Each Memorial Day, the folks sent family members money for flowers to be placed on the graves of departed kinfolk.

That is until 1966 when Dad retired from active duty and he and Mom moved back to Oklahoma.

At long last, they could do the grave decorating themselves.

For me, 1967 was my first participation in the ritual of visiting cemeteries to put flowers on the graves of my ancestors.

And that is where the genealogy and history lesson came in.

I went with Mom, an aunt and my grandmother to the Washington cemetery.

There I was told was the final resting place of my great-grandfather, Thomas Overley, who nobly served the Confederacy with distinction during the Civil War.

Or as some die-hard Southerners prefer, the War of Northern Aggression.

We stopped by the graves of a couple of great aunts first, pulling weeds and trimming any errant branches before carefully placing flowers by each headstone.

Finally we moved to great-grandfather’s grave and I couldn’t help but bust out laughing.

Indeed, he was a Civil War veteran – resting eternally under a Grand Army of the Republic marker!

Laughter isn’t your typical decorum, especially while honoring veterans on Memorial Day.

But I had to regain my composure before I could explain the cause for my chuckles.

I looked at Grandma and Aunt Willie and told them, “Well, you were right. Great-granddad Overley was a Civil War veteran. He fought with the UNION army, though.”

And really that shouldn’t have come as a surprise to them. He was born and raised in Indiana and if only by virtue of geography, he was destined to be a Yankee.

Thereafter, my aunt tried telling us that though he was in the Union army, he was a spy for the Confederacy and was so good at that undercover mission that the Yankees never cottoned to what he was up to. 

Thus, the GAR headstone.

That tale became a family joke and no one ever took it seriously.

I certainly never did.

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