Monday, May 27, 2013
Years ago I remember gathering as a family at my paternal grandparents' abode in Idaho to prepare flowery bouquets that were then taken to a nearby cemetery over Memorial weekend. The beautiful flower arrangements were distributed among the family graves in this location. Stories were shared about these people--most of whom I had never met, like my father's sister who passed away the day she was born. I was shown the headstones of pioneer ancestors who had helped settle the area and reminded of the great sacrifices they had made to establish our family. Each year it was pointed out that my paternal grandfather had joined the cemetery board after the death of his infant daughter and how he had helped initiate the beautification of this particular cemetery, planting grass, pine trees, and flowering crab trees once the sagebrush was removed.This effort helped my grieving grandparents deal with the loss of their only daughter. Stories like these helped me gain an appreciation of who these people were and filled me with a determination to live up to their example.
When this yearly ritual was completed in Idaho, my family journeyed to Star Valley, Wyoming to do a similar thing with my mother's family. Once again we gathered at the grandparents' house to organize flowery bouquets that were then taken to another beautiful small town cemetery. We always began by decorating the tiny grave of my mother's brother who died in a tragic accident when he was seven years old. Other bouquets of flowers were then placed near the headstones of aunts and uncles, and ancestral grandparents who are buried in this location. Stories were once again shared about sacrifices made, and the courage these people possessed.
I remember asking about the small American flag that was attached to the side of one relative's grave and being informed that this member of our family had served bravely in the armed forces, fighting for our country. Shortly after this information was shared, I was taken to a special ceremony at this same cemetery where a larger flag was raised, a speech was delivered about the importance of remembering the sacrifices made by those who offered their lives to keep our nation free. And I will never forget the haunting melody of "Taps" as it was played on the trumpet by a talented musician.
Decorating graves over Memorial weekend has been a huge tradition on both sides of my family. My mother promised her mother that this would always take place each year--and each year, she has faithfully come through, despite ugly weather, health challenges, etc. As a child, I enjoyed meeting up with extended family members during this traditional holiday weekend. I loved hearing the stories about my ancestors, and I have passed these same stories on to my own children in an attempt to keep the family flame burning.
Memorial Day took on an even deeper meaning when my own father passed away several years ago. I don't think I will ever forget how hard that first Memorial weekend was as we somberly gathered around Dad's grave. The pain of that time was eased by extended family members who met up with us in Star Valley, sharing love, delicious food, and fond memories of our father.
This year as I took my mother on our annual "Memorial Loop", as we call it, we journeyed to Lewisville, Idaho to decorate the graves of my father, and his family. There we met up with cousins on that side who had come to do the same thing. It was wonderful to see them, and to spend a short heartfelt time together as we remembered those who paved the way for us.
Then it was on to Star Valley, Wyoming, where we met up with part of my mother's family and enjoyed renewing family bonds. Once again we journeyed to the cemetery where loved one are buried and set out flowers to commemorate their memory.
One thing I noticed this year . . . there weren't as many people decorating graves. We were told this by the man who owns the place where we stayed in Star Valley. He commented that during this era of busyness, people don't seem as interested in celebrating Memorial weekend in the traditional manner.
To me, this is a sad trend. I know most people celebrate this weekend--but for some it is merely the start of the summer. It's a time to go boating, fishing, camping, barbequing, etc. Those things are fine, and we've often done that ourselves . . . after paying homage to those who have gone before.
I think it's important to spend time remembering where we've come from--it helps us focus on where we need to go--a reminder that someday there will be an accounting of what we've done with our family names. Passing on family stories and examples of sacrifice and courage is important. It helps us to become less selfish as we focus on our ancestors and honor their memory during this special time of year. Taking the time to remember them is crucial--proof that we appreciate all that they have done on our behalf.