Memorial Thoughts


Mrs. Betty Bowers, America’s Best Christian, Addresses The NRA – Two Industries that Are Above the Law Put the Killing in Killing

Mrs. Betty Bowers, America's Best Christian Addresses The NRA - The Killing in Killing

Click on the image to see the video, or go here.

Memorial Day weekend just seems like a really sick time to schedule the NRA convention, doesn’t it?

Let’s move one…

There are other things I’ve rather think about today:

copyright 2014 Gene Breshears
Flowers for Grandma’s grave, I believe this was 2008.

Before the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968 made Memorial Day an official federal holiday, and even before the first federal observation of a day to decorate Union Soldier’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery back in 1868, and even before the Ladies’ Memorial Association of Columbus, Georgia suggested a day to honor those who died in the Civil War there was another holiday called Decoration Day observed in many parts of the country. It was a day to have family reunions and celebrate the lives of all of our deceased family members.

As one historical society defined it: “Decoration Day is an annual observance at many privately owned graveyards during which families gather to clean up the graveyard, reconnect with family, and honor the memories of their ancestors… Traditionally, Decoration Day is in part a ritual, with families arriving on the day before Decoration Sunday with hoes and shovels for a graveyard workday. They scrape the ground, trim the grass, make new plantings, and prune old ones… The cleanup is followed by a Sunday picnic dinner, singing in church, placing flowers on graves, and visiting with friends and family. Sunday participants come dressed for church and participate in what amounts to a family and community reunion. Family members that have moved away often return on this day, giving them an important opportunity to teach children about their ancestors and the communities in which they once lived. Outdoor tables of concrete or wood, marked to identify participating churches, hold the food for the meal.”

I have mixed feelings about Memorial Day. On the one hand I get really tired of the tendency some have of turning every even-slighlty patriot holiday into another Veterans’ Day. Today is not the day to thank Veterans for their service. Today is a day to remember and honor the memories of the dead. Since the Uniform Holiday Act, it has officially been a day to honor those who gave their lives in service to our country. Those of us with a longer memory think of it as a day to honor all of the dead, not just those who died during military service.

I have particularly strong feelings about it because my Grandmother, who observed the holiday every year by putting silk flower arrangements she had made herself on the graves of our relatives in western Oregon and Washington–and also by sending money to friends all over the country to make certain that flowers were put on the graves of her parents (my great-grandparents) and all of her aunts and uncles. Then, fifteen years ago, on the Friday before that Memorial Day, Grandma, having just finished arranging the flowers on the grave of my great-aunt Maud, looked up at my step-grandpa, said, "I don’t feel good…" and she dropped dead.

So Memorial Day now, more than ever, makes me think of my Grandma, and all the people she loved her preceded her into death. So, it’s time to reprint this (first published in 2014):

Memorial, part 2—for Grandma

Grandma always called it by the older name, Decoration Day. As I’ve [written before](https://fontfolly.net/2013/05/27/memorial-2/), the original holiday was celebrated in many states as a day to gather at the grave sites of your parents, grandparents, et cetera, to honor the memory of their lives. It was often a time of picnics and family reunions. At least as much a celebration of their lives as a time of mourning. The connection to military deaths didn’t happen until 1868, and particularly in the south, was often seen as a pro-Union, pro-war, anti-southern celebration.

I didn’t understand most of those nuances when I was a kid. The modern version of the holiday, celebrated on the last Monday in May, didn’t even exist until I was a fifth-grader, when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act went into effect.

Grandma observed it faithfully. Every year, as May rolled around, she would begin calling distant relatives and old family friends. Grandma knew where just about every person descended from her own grandparents was buried, and she made certain that someone who lived nearby was putting flowers on the graves of those relatives by Memorial Day. She took care of all the family members buried within a couple hours drive of her home in southwest Washington.

She was putting flowers on the grave of my Great-aunt Maud (Grandma’s sister-in-law) on the Friday before Memorial Day when she died. My step-grandfather said he was getting in position to take a picture of her beside the grave and the flowers (there are hundreds and hundreds of photos of Grandma beside graves with flowers on them in her photo albums) when she suddenly looked up, said, “I don’t feel good!” and pitched over.

One weekend she had blown out the candles on the cake celebrating her 84th birthday. The following Friday, while putting flowers on Great-aunt Maud’s grave, she died. And one week after that a bunch of us were standing at her graveside. It was just down to a few family members, and we were at that stage where you’re commenting on how pretty the flowers that so-and-so that no one had heard from in years were, when someone asked, “Isn’t Grandpa’s grave nearby?”

Grandpa had died 23 years earlier, and was buried in one of a pair of plots he and Grandma had bought many years before. And after Grandma re-married, she and our step-grandfather had bought two more plots close by.

Anyway, as soon as someone asked that, my step-grandfather’s eyes bugged out, he went white as a sheet, and said, “Oh, no!” He was obviously very distressed as he hurried toward his car. Several of us followed, worried that he was having some sort of medical issue.

Nope. He and Grandma had been driving to various cemeteries all week long before her death, putting silk-bouquets that Grandma had made on each relative’s grave. Aunt Maud’s was meant to be the next-to-the-last stop on their journey. Grandpa’s silk flower bouquet was still in the trunk of the car. My step-grandfather was beside himself. He’d cried so much that week, you wouldn’t have thought he could cry any more, but there he was, apologizing to Grandma’s spirit for forgetting about the last batch of flowers, and not finishing her chore—for not getting flowers on Grandpa George’s grave by Memorial Day.

The next year, several of us had the realization that without Grandma around, none of us knew who to call to get flowers put on Great-grandma and Great-grandpa’s graves back in Colorado. None of us were sure in which Missouri town Great-great-aunt Pearl was buried, let alone who Grandma called every year to arrange for the flowers. Just as we weren’t certain whether Great-great-aunt Lou was buried in Kansas or was it Missouri? And so on, and so on. One of my cousins had to track down the incident report filed by the paramedics who responded to our step-grandfather’s 9-1-1 call just to find out which cemetery Great-aunt Maud was in.

copyright 2014 Gene Breshears
Flowers from us, Mom, and my Aunt Silly on Grandpa’s grave.
Mom and her sister have been putting flowers on Grandma’s and Grandpa’s graves since. Our step-grandfather passed away three years after Grandma, and he was buried beside her.

Some years before her death, Grandma had transferred the ownership of the plot next to Grandpa to Mom. So Mom’s going to be buried beside her dad. Mom mentions it whenever we visit the graves, and I don’t know if she realizes how much it chokes me up to think about it.

We had put the flowers in place. We had both taken pictures. Mom always worries that she won’t remember where Grandpa’s grave is (it’s seared in my head: two rows down from Grandma, four stones to the south). Michael helped Mom take a wide shot picture that has both Grandma’s and Grandpa’s spots in it.

I thought we were going to get away with both of us only getting a little teary-eyeed a few times, but as we were getting back into the car, Mom started crying. Which meant that I lost it.
Flowers from Mom, my sister, and I on the grave this year for Grandma and our step-grandpa.
Flowers from Mom, my sister, and I on the grave this year for Grandma and our step-grandpa. I believe this was 2010.

Grandma’s been gone for fifteen years, now. Every time I have taken the two hour drive to visit Mom, there would be a moment on the drive when my mind is wandering, and I’d wonder what Grandma will be doing when we get there. And then I would remember I won’t be seeing her. It took me about a dozen years to stop having those lapses about Grandpa. I suspect it will be longer for Grandma.

After all, she’s the one who taught me the importance of Those Who Matter.

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