As this is a holiday weekend and I am in the middle of prepping for our youngest child's college graduation party I am recycling an old essay on Memorial Day. For my non-United States readers - Memorial Day is the day we dedicate to remembering those who have died in military service. Of course, it has also become a day to remember everyone who has passed. The day was originally named Decoration Day. All military graves were adorned with small flags. In our family we made yearly trips with trunkloads of flowers to place on family graves. But, because this is a little more serious essay than I normally post I would like to leave you with this: If you do an internet search for 'screaming dead comedian' you will, in fact, get information on Sam Kinison. Who is an odd choice of person to be thinking about at 7:05 AM on a Sunday when I should be dusting and vacuuming and running to the store...And, on that note I will leave you with:
Marigolds, petunias and geraniums. That is the hierarchy, the rank, if you will of which flower goes on which grave. Marigolds are for the distant relatives, the ones that have been gone the longest. Petunias are for the next in line- cousins, step family and 'the baby graves'. Geraniums go to the top ranking relatives – parents, grandparents, the favorite Aunts and Uncles. They also go on the yet to be filled graves that belong to the double headstone relatives. The ones that plan to be buried next to their spouse (or favorite spouse in the case of one Aunt) but who may not be quite dead yet.
I learned this class system early in my childhood. Every May I would accompany my Mom on a tour of The Cemeteries. We would pack the trunk of the car with jugs of water, small garden shovels and flats of fresh flowering plants. East Cemetery was mostly Mom's relatives. The West Cemetery mostly Dad's. It was also the final resting place of those sad yet scary 'baby graves'. I always preferred the West Cemetery. It sat on the top of a large hill – nearly unheard of in the middle of Cornfield Illinois, and felt spacious and airy. The East Cemetery felt older, more enclosed with its large oak trees and winding gravel paths. Plus, from the top of the West Cemetery I could almost make out my grandparents farm and it was fun to see the place where I had many adventures from a different vantage point.
The Decoration Day ritual was an adventure when I was young. It became a chore when I grew older. When we had to drive ninety minutes to reach the cemeteries it was the definition of dread. Yet, as we began to divide up the flowers and dig the holes and soak them with water my attitude changed. Mom would tell the stories: this was the great great uncle from the Civil War, here was The Favorite Aunt's second husband, who ran out the back door when her first came in the front. Over that hill was the sweet great grandma, who's husband was murdered in a robbery. And here is the resting place of grandma's sister. She was never given the title of Aunt. A child who dies at the age of five because it took too long to acquire treatment for rabies earns a special place in history instead. One after another, the headstones would be anointed with history and flora. If Mom took too long to get to a favorite story we would ask. 'Now who did those babies belong too?' 'Which one of these guys died from a ruptured appendix?' Leftover flowers would go on some of the plain stones in 'Potter's Field' where the drunk was buried. Seriously, how can you not remember a guy named 'Commodore'.
The decorating needed to be done well in advance of the holiday so everyone could see that there were still living family around. But not too early – the flowers had to stay fresh. Heaven forbid we use those 'tacky' plastic flowers and don't get me started on the horrifying pictures which sprang into my overactive brain at the mention of 'grave blankets'. After walking gingerly around the stones, diligently placing the correct flower in its place we would stop and survey a large empty space on the eastern slope of the West Cemetery. There - enough empty grave sites for each of their immediate family. Here, it was noted, was where my Grandparents had saved us places.
It has been many years since I went on the grave decorating expedition. I do take the opportunity each year to share with our kids the stories these trips bring to mind. However, I have omitted the information regarding the available graves. Frankly, I prefer to take my chances with the seating arrangement for my eternal rest.
And also... I prefer daisies.
Memorial Day is also one of the most dangerous holidays on the road. PLEASE WEAR YOUR SEATBELT AND DRIVE RESPONSIBLY! Don't let your holiday end like this:
|Amazingly everyone walked away alive with only a few broken ribs and a dinged up hand and knee. All drivers and passengers involved were wearing their seatbelts. They did, however, screw up the delicious dinner I was cooking.