Monday, May 26, 2014

Never Forget

From the earliest time I can remember, Memorial Day has been an important time for our family. We lived fairly close to my father's family and so we would start the weekend by helping my widowed grandmother decorate the graves of her husband and only daughter. Since my paternal grandfather had served in World War I (my father was born late in life to his parents, so we are directly tied to an older generation) I felt a certain amount of pride in seeing the small American flag that was placed by my grandfather's grave marker.

Most years we were reminded that it was my paternal grandfather who initiated the effort to beautify the Lewisville Cemetery. When a baby girl born to my grandparents died shortly after her birth, my heartbroken grandfather took one look at the barren pioneer cemetery and decided it needed some work. Weeds and brush were cleared from the area. Grass, pine trees, and beautiful flowering crab trees were planted. To this day, that small cemetery is one of the prettiest around, thanks in part to my grandfather's determination to make his daughter's final resting place a haven on earth.

Each year, after decorating the graves of family members on my father's side of the family tree, our clan then headed to Star Valley, Wyoming, to help my mother's family do the same thing. My maternal grandmother made up beautiful baskets of flowers, using varied blooms from her flower beds, and the local nursery. We then traveled to the Thayne Cemetery to honor the memory of those who had gone on before us. Included among those family members is one of my mother's brothers, who died in a tragic accident when he was seven years old.

As we worked together to place colorful flowers on each grave, stories were shared about our ancestors. It was a time of remembering and strengthening family ties as we gathered with cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents to pay homage to the varied members of our family, like the courageous great-grandmother who left her home in Scotland and came to America with her daughter, seeking religious freedom. We were reminded of the great-uncle who rode with the Pony Express, and how he fought off thieves who tried to rob him. A distant cousin sacrificed his life serving his country in the military--an aunt bravely faced a turbulent battle with cancer, a loving grandmother passed quietly from this life after setting an example of quiet courage in facing life trials.

After stories were shared and the beautiful flower arrangements were in place, we then returned to our grandparent's home for a delicious picnic lunch. It was a weekend filled with tradition that I looked forward to each spring.

Shortly before my maternal grandmother passed away, my mother made a promise that she would see to it that the family graves would continue to be decorated each Memorial Day. She has kept that promise. Year after year we have made the journey we simply call, the Memorial Day Jaunt, or Loop. We travel to Lewisville, Idaho and begin by decorating the graves on my dad's side of the family. My father's grave lies near those of his parents, sister, and brother. His grandparents and aunts and uncles are also buried in this same small cemetery. We spend several minutes cleaning, decorating, and remembering beloved family members. Then we journey on to Wyoming to tackle this same task with my mother's family. It is an important tradition, and one I hope will continue.

When we remember those who have gone on before, it helps to shape our own lives. As we reflect on their sacrifices and example, though not perfect, it often inspires us to persevere and continually strive to bring honor to our family name. Though our trials differ from theirs, we remember their determination and courage, and perhaps learn from their mistakes.

These stories and traditions are crucial to pass onto future generations. It saddens me when I see a tendency for Memorial Day to become nothing more than a time of frivolous fun. When ancestors are forgotten and family stories fade from memory, we lose an important heritage. May we each make an effort to remember those who have paved the way for us--knowing their sacrifices have made it possible for us to enjoy the freedoms we sometimes take for granted.  

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