I visited a country cemetery today, and I’m glad I did.
Memorial Day has always been a special holiday to me. Not only a time to remember and honor our fallen veterans, but also for remembering loved ones, family and friends that have passed on. I didn’t develop an appreciation for this National Holiday until later years.
As a boy growing up, I remember helping my grandfather load up the trunk of his big, four-door Pontiac with a metal wash tub filled with coffee cans and quart jars he had carefully wrapped with aluminum foil and filled with fresh peonies, iris, and poppies. We then made the trek around to various country cemeteries to place them on graves of family that I heard the same stories about every year and I listened with halfhearted interest. I was tired, and hot and thirsty and thought it was a pretty boring afternoon for a young man on a summer day.
But the years passed and I then went with my parents to do the same thing and hear the same stories, but by then with a silk flower mostly. Now, it’s usually just my wife and I and I struggle to remember all the stories about those long gone people, and now I worry that I will forget them. Who will know about those long ago incidents and stories of everyday people most have long forgotten about?
Memorial Day makes me feel like a young boy again as I bring to life, at least in my memories, many of those people and times. As I drive thru the country, I reminisce about who lived in that spot, where before long, many will never even know there was a house there. I struggle to recognize a sign, the end of a driveway, a grove of trees or a small outbuilding that tells me where the house used to be.
Who will remember now that an old couple lived there? The wife never learned to drive, so she would carry her basket on her arm and walk to town to attend a church function or to the small general store.
Who will remember that two brothers lived in a farm house way out in the country? They would walk to town on Sunday afternoon and live in a hotel room during the week so they could attend high school, cooking their own meals on a small one burner stove in their room, then walk home on Friday nights.
Who will remember that one of my childhood friends’ parents lived in a house along the road that is now gone, and I struggle to even see where it was? Or the grandma who lived next door in an even smaller house that has totally disappeared.
When I arrive at the cemetery I walk around and read the names and recall stories about their lives or just remember them for a few minutes and smile. I still feel a pang of pain in my heart for more recent losses and painful partings. How many sad journeys have been made up this hill over the years I ponder. But today it’s peaceful and calm and quiet and their life stories hover in the air, just waiting to be gathered in, even if just for a few minutes. Over the years, I’ve observed if loved ones have been there yet or not by the flowers they have left. One grave back over the hill will have a single bloom behind the stone. And I know that family has been there already. Another will have flowers, but not fresh ones, and I know that family has not had a chance to get there yet, but will. And I wonder what it was like in past times when horses and buggies would pull up out front and park under the big shade trees for Sunday Services in the long abandoned church? Did they set up tables under those trees and share picnic lunches in the summer?
I like feeling like a young boy again and bringing up these long ago memories and thoughts, even for just an hour or so on a warm summer afternoon. I’m grateful I had grandparents and parents that thought this day was important. So, I don’t worry about forgetting some of the stories one day, I just enjoy the memories for this moment and glad I have them now. Thank you to all those who take the responsibility to oversee these cemeteries and make sure they are taken care of and preserved.
I visited a country cemetery today, and I’m so glad I did.