Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day Memories

Back in the 50's,Memorial Day was the day the whole community went to the cemetery to clean up the family plots, pull weeds, and put out fresh flowers from our gardens. Families who didn't see each other very often would visit and catch up on the year in between raking and weed pulling and putting out the flowers.

Perpetual care you pay for hadn't been thought of yet.

Everyone's roses were blooming and we had a Spanish Broom bush which had bright yellow flowers that smelled wonderful. My dad said my older brother, who died when he was three and a half, had loved them, and those went on his grave. It made him more real, somehow. I had been so young, I didn't remember him.

There were some mulberry trees, and the berries would be ripe. We kids would climb the trees and eat the berries. No one told us to stop climbing or eating the berries, but I remember I always felt just a bit wicked and adventurous climbing the cemetery trees. We were there to remember our dead, and there I was, having a good time with the other kids.

I was quite a lot older before I understood that Memorial Day was created to remember and honor our war dead. I think the remembrance of those who sacrificed their lives to protect our freedom is a wonderful thing. I also think the yearly community cleanup to remember all our dead was a good thing. Every family had suffered loss. Back then, there wasn't much medical science could do to save lives. Death was more a part of life. Accepted and respected. Not hidden so much, not such a surprise. The dead were actively remembered.

It's been a long time since I've been to that cemetery. It was my uncle's burial six years ago, and at that time, I noticed the headstone on my brother's grave had been broken at the base and was missing. The plot, in the New Mexico sunshine, was unkempt and untended. I did nothing; I simply settled my uncle's affairs and made the 700-mile trip back home.

Like so many others today, I am opting for cremation, and I am not leaving instructions for the ashes. It is a different time, with changing customs. But we still honor our dead who stepped forward and said, "I don't want to die, but I will put my life on the line for my country."

Honor and sacrifice still has value. And that is good to know.

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