As I prepared the sermon, I started remembering how our family handled Memorial Day, which we called Decoration Day. The day was a process–beginning in the morning picking flowers from our own yard. No purchased ones were ever used and I never remember not having fresh ones available.
The next step was wrapping old Folgers coffee can with aluminum foil, filling them with the flowers and then water–enough to get to the cemetery before we added more there. The flowers filled the trunk of the car and then for the next step.
My memory includes picnics. Mom would pack the picnic basket–now sitting in my dining room with one broken handle–with either fried chicken or ham. No potato chips, instead there would be potato salad and/or deviled eggs. At least that is what I remember.
Then off we would all go–all four of us. No one stayed home as this was a family event. We started in Middletown. I remember it because that is where Ote West was buried, along with his wife. Our farm had been his, but when he died, it became Dad’s. And with each grave, came the stories. Little did I know the value of the stories then as I do now.
From Wellsville, we drove to Millersburg where Mom’s birth mother and an older brother are buried along with others from her family. This is where we learned of the heartbreak Mom experienced having lost her mom when she was only 2 1/2 years old and growing up to know she had had an older brother, too. What we did not know until 1980 was that her mother had been pregnant when she died. But the stories continued.
As I remember, we often had our picnic at Dixie Lake which is only a few miles from the Millersburg Cemetery. In terms of a lake, it is rather small by my adult standards, but as a young girl it was huge.
After lunch, we drove back to Montgomery City’s cemetery where Dad’s family was buried. There were more graves to visit here, but Dad’s family was much larger. One memory is of my cousin Sally’s family. She was the only infant to survive due to RH factor. The graves of the babies are not an accurate reflection of that heartbreak as some were turned over for scientific study. But the story is laid out along the rows of graves in that cemetery along with aunts, uncles, great-grandparents, and now even our own parents.
Today I live on the other side of the state. Trips to the cemetery are far and few between. The cemetery is a location, but the spirits are always present. I rather miss the traditions and being able to share the stories I learned from decorating the graves, but location determines many decisions.
I know that Memorial Day is really designed to honor the veterans, but for me it is honoring the history of my family. We did not have many who were veterans as most were farmers and escaped being drafted.
One uncle did serve in World War II and suffered from malaria off and on during his life. Plus my dad and his cousin Donald did enlist at the end of World War II when the draft called them. (Enlisting rather being drafted reduced the months of service.) Later his brother also served. Yet they returned home to continue farming until their lives ended in a non-combat manner.
Today, the Tuesday after, I wonder if I should have made the drive across state to visit the cemeteries. No. My memory always honors those who have gone ahead. The cemetery is just a place. My decoration is the life I now live honoring them in who I am. I am sure they know.