Monday, May 29, 2006

Grandma called it Decoration Day

My mother used to talk about when she was a little girl, that there was a very old family cemetary on the farm where she lived, that belonged to the family that lived there before hers. At this time of year, Mom and her siblings would go to the very old cemetary and cut the grass and put flowers on all the graves. They felt so good about doing this and members of that previous family would come back and thank them, and tell them how much it meant for them to care for the graves that way. I imagine her and her sisters weaving wreaths of spring wildflowers and gathering bouqets to put in canning jars on each and every grave, sweeping off the stones and when done, feeling it was a meaningful act and job well done.

I remember when I was a little girl, taking my father's mother to the cemetary we went to yesterday. It was a big deal, and usually was just a part of the day, complete with picnic and sometimes including an extended family gathering.

Since I have grown up and married- and even more now that my children have grown in the years passing in that familiar blur that is life- it falls to me and my husband now, to make sure my mother gets to the cemetary to decorate the graves. As I get older it is also (and perhaps just as importantly) so that I, too, can have my private moments and mental conversations with long passed loved ones and the ancestors.

The other day we took my Mom to that cemetery by the Old Friends' Meetinghouse over in the next county. We rode through the rolling green hills and smelled all those rich agricultural smells including the good smell of dirt, the pungence of sheep, cows and horses; and the scent of lilacs on the air.

Story has it that the Society of Friends were meeting one day in that simple white clapboard building among the huge pinetrees; a place that I have always loved, that is so full of peace. The native people who had supposedly been raiding heard the voices inside, suddenly came in, saw the people, felt the peace, put their weapons down and joined in. That's what the historic marker says. I imagine it as if I was there, and I am not surprised if the story is true, because there is a true feeling of peace that permeates the place.

So we planted flowers on my grandparents and my father, and my great uncle: I put pansies on Grandma because she had a HUGE flowerbed of pansies when I was just a wee girl. I also put some sweet allysum around the pansies. She was a farm wife, suffered loss of a baby girl among the half dozen children she birthed, kept a clean and beautiful homestead and could drive horses and wagon as well as any man. She was from Vermont and worked in a boardinghouse when she met my grandfather. I think of a youthful picture of her, with upswept hair and turned up nose, and I see parts of my face there and in turn I see some of Grandma's features in my daughter's face.

We put geraniums on the great-grands. Great-Grandpa was so tall and Great-Grandma was so petite in a very old picture I have of them taken outside in the flower garden. I have marveled at them, their faces showing the hard work they had done for a lifetime. Beautiful bright red geraniums for them.

I bought some verbena, some in red, some in white and some in a purply blue color, to put on my dad who was in WW2...who like the guys in Iraq today, did what he was told- including some stuff that haunted him throughout the rest of his life- stuff that screwed him up and stuff that "leaked out" on my mom, my sister and I.

I put beautiful marigolds with sunset colors and a pansy in similar colors on my grandfather, a very severe Quaker (or so I remember from Dad's stories), whom I never knew. My great Uncle Dave who couldn't deal with how his days unfolded- perhaps because of chronic ill health; i don't know for sure- took his own life and I always put flowers on his grave to acknowledge his pain and to lift his spirit...some fragrant verbena with the lovely smell and some sweet allysum, to remind him of the sweetness of life.

It is always wonderful to get to the cemetary and see that someone has been there ahead of us, planting geraniums or whatever flowers they chose. We add our plantings to theirs to create an expanded picture- depicting our honor, and love and gratitude for these generations who laid the foundation for our lives with their own. We decorate the graves to show our remembrances of our beloved deceased.

I always feel so good in that peaceful place by the Quaker Meeting House and it feels so good to decorate the graves. As we drive away, I wish I could stay longer, and I am also hungry for lunch during which we reminisce about those who have gone on before... and I remember fondly how my Grandma Addie used to call it Decoration Day.


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