Those who have followed my blog for awhile know that my mother, Joy, is a newspaper columnist. Her reflective column this week on Memorial Day is something you should read. Grab a hanky.
Watching our cemetery just north of town come to life in riotous color each Memorial Day is such a special time for me.
Okay, so maybe using “come to life” and “cemetery” in the same sentence is a bit of a stretch.
What else would you call it?
I’ve often walked the cemetery during the year; when no crowds were present, when the grass was dry and brown, when there was only silence to match my foot steps.
Seeing it in all its glory this past weekend was like renewing acquaintance with a past we often forget.
And it was a glorious weekend. One couldn’t have asked for better weather as a setting for the holiday.
Watching the flags on veterans’ graves flapping in the breeze always reminds me of the day’s significance.
After the Civil War, Decoration Day (as it was known then) was proclaimed a holiday. The North and the South observed different days until 1882, when the name was changed to Mem orial Day. In 1971, Memorial Day was officially declared a nat ional holiday to be held on the last Monday of May.
At the site of our cemetery’s eternal flame, I always enjoy the ceremony put on by the dwindling numbers of our Veterans of Foreign Wars and its auxiliary.
I like the pomp and pageantry of watching our colors pass by and seeing the earnest faces in the crowd of those who have their own strong thoughts about honor and loyalty and country.
I like hearing the words that recall to us those who so selflessly gave their lives to keep that standard of red, white and blue flying.
I like, most especially, to watch the generations that decorate the graves and attend the ceremony together.
Husbands and wives with hands clasped as they remember together the tears they once shed at this site for a friend, a parent, a brother, a sister . . . a child.
I like seeing friends I haven’t seen since the last Memorial Day and renewing acquaintance with those from afar who make the annual trip in tribute of their treasured ones.
And I like to walk along the rows of gravestones, seeing how people have chosen to remember their loved ones with touching tokens of tribute amid an endless palette of hues:
–Angels in every size and shape and color and fabric perch on or near headstones; one blue-gowned and standing in her own miniature garden of yellow flowers and tiny stepping stones.
–Ornaments dangle from metal holders – glass heart pendants, tiny wind chimes, bright spirals of color, bas kets exploding with flowers.
–At some sites, flowers are lined up like soldiers in formation, positioned with perfect precision.
–At others the floral tributes are a massed profusion of almost chaotic confusion.
And all are beautiful against the green grass and azure sky they share.
–A tiny ceramic Boston terrier, a pink Care Bear, a row of tiny Holsteins, a John Deere tractor, a little cow boy in chaps, puppies, kittens, praying hands, crosses, birdhouses . . . pictures of grandchildren never seen.
Taking our own flowers to the sites of fathers, mothers, aunts and uncles and grandparents lets us join others on the same mission:
˜A woman in her nineties rests, leaning against her son’s pickup truck while he carries flowers over to her family’s plot that she has been visiting on Memorial Days since she was a child and to her own gravesite nearby, where her late husband has rested for the past 30 years.
˜A new widow marks the first year she will deco rate her husband’s grave and on this occasion she is surrounded by her family; generations of comforting hands to pat and stroke and hug her through this mile stone that none of us wants to face but all realize is inevitable.
˜Two middle-aged men, obviously brothers, stand with their wives where they have stood to attend the VFW services year in and year out . . . through the pass ing of their father, then their mother . . . finally, a bro ther. And I am somehow comforted by the constancy of their familiar presence.
˜Three generations approach a familiar headstone; a beautiful, white-haired but oh-so-youthful-looking grandmother accompanied by her daughter and her granddaughter who solemnly watch every move she makes, almost as if to memorize what they will have to one day do without her there to show them the way.
˜A crossover van pulls up and all four doors open at the same moment as if by one hand.
A mother, two of her daughters and a son-in-law reach into the back of the vehicle and set to work dec orating a series of gravestones set side by side.
They are silent as they go about their tasks, each almost reflexively knowing what they must do without asking . . . they’ve done it so often before.
This goes here and that goes there.
When they are finished, they stand there together, shoulder to shoulder, looking at their handiwork.
Of the loved one or ones who once went through this same ritual with them in the years past?
Of the grief that has slowly grown dim, now allow ing them to remember the good times instead of the bad?
Of the lives they shared before?
Of what they wished they’d have done?
Whatever is on their minds, this ritual of remem brance is what I like best about the holiday.
Memorial Day is a day for remembering.
A day for appreciating sacrifices large and small.
A day for them.
Before they became us. 6-3-2010