Sunday, May 29, 2011

Rosemary (or some other potted plant) for Remembrance

When I was a child, Memorial Day weekend was a really big deal.  Of course it was the beginning of summer vacation, which by itself was enough to make my sister and me hysterical with excitement, but my family also engaged in an Anglo version of The Day of the Dead that lasted for two or three days.  Every morning that weekend we would get up early; Mom would pack a picnic lunch; and Dad would stow first bedding plants and gardening gear, then us, in the car and we would be off on a scenic tour of the rural cemeteries of eastern South Dakota.

Both of my parents' families moved around quite a bit when they were small, so their dearly departed were spread far and wide.  How many we visited depended upon the weather and how quickly our food and stamina ran out, but at minimum we always stopped to see my grandparents' graves and those of my mother's grandparents.  If we were feeling ambitious, we also tracked down various aunts and uncles.  When we got there we would wash the headstones, clip the grass right next to the stones that the cemetery mower missed, and plant some cheerful annuals or irises.  Mom and Dad would talk about their memories of the deceased while we were working; then we'd eat our lunch and drive on to the next lost loved one.  During the years my Grandmother Mabee and Grandfather Roduner were alive we would pick them up and take them with us on our pilgrimage; later on theirs were two of the graves we stopped to take care of.

Now that the remaining immediate family has all migrated to Arizona, my mother sends money to friends or more distant relatives so that they can take flowers to the graves on our behalf.  Eventually, as those people head for the cemeteries on a more permanent basis, the whole ritual will probably die out and our ancestors will truly be left to rest in peace.  Since neither Sue nor I have children, some day no one passing their graves will know that our great-grandfather Christian Kapsch had beautiful blue eyes or that our great-uncle Durwood Bennett was known to everyone as Doc.  I find that a little sad.

A little bit of the tradition remains, though.  Every year we still take flowers to my husband Tom's grave on Memorial Day weekend, and even though they don't live close enough to visit his grave, his children and grandchildren will pass on their memories of him for years to come. 

"Let us so live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry." ~Mark Twain

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