Memorial Day has changed for me over the years. As a small child, when I was with my Grandmother all the time, it was an adventure. Grandmother grew lots of flowers in her back yard; peonies, roses, iris, and always rose moss. But the peonies, roses, and iris, were the ones she would cut for the cemetery.
On Memorial Day we started as soon as breakfast was over cutting the flowers. They were then arranged in Mason jars or tin cans with foil wrapped around them with plenty of water, and set on the back porch in the shade.
Sometimes I would help, but mostly I would just observe from my swing that Grandpa had hung in a large tree. Once she had everything she could cut from her yard ready, we would load the Mason jars and cans into boxes and put them into the trunk of Grandpa’s 49 Plymouth two-door Sedan.
On the road between Medicine Lodge and Sun City, we would stop often and collect her favorite flower for the graves, the yucca plant bloom. Grandmother and I would go into the ditch or field to cut them, and then she would place them in wet towels and lay them in the trunk. It was only a few miles to the cemeteries; they would be fine until we got there.
Sometimes we would gather the Indian Head flowers that grew in the fields too. They reminded me of a small sunflower but with a bronze or reddish orange petal and dark center. These went directly into a jar of water.
The first stop was the Lake City Cemetery, where most of my Grandfather’s family is buried. We had a full box of flowers to distribute there. I remember that little cemetery sat high on a hill, and you could see for miles. I don’t think there was a single tree in the cemetery, but there may have been one or two on the hills around it. Once we finished with the graves of my Grandfather’s family we would go to Sun City, just a few miles west.
When we arrived at the Sun City cemetery we would put the yucca blooms into the jars and cans of water. Grandmother’s parents were buried there, along with a few other relatives and some friends. I knew where each grave was, and would take some of the flowers in the Mason jars or tin cans and place them on the grave for her.
When I had completed my mission, and while she worked on her parent’s graves, I would sit on a little lamb monument nearby, and watch her. It was the marker for a baby, but to me it was a stone pony and I would wait there for her to finish.
Once we had finished with the graves it was on to my Uncle Ed’s or Aunt Ruby’s, a brother and sister of my Mom, for lunch. Sometimes we went to my Uncles farm west of town, which had belonged to Grandmother, and sometimes it was to my Aunts farm just north of Sun City.
At my Aunt’s farm there was a nice creek to play in and a boy cousin to play with. We would play in the barn or tease the mules that my Uncle Archie loved to raise, or try to find horned toads. After lunch and a piece of my Aunt Ruby’s signature burnt sugar cake, it was time to go back to Medicine Lodge to Grandmother’s house.
After Grandmother died, when I was 16, I started going with my Mom to take flowers to all the same graves; it was her turn to take over the task from Grandmother. We lived 11/2 hours away so it was quite a jaunt, but we always ended up at Aunt Ruby’s about noon to have lunch and a piece of her wonderful burnt sugar cake.
When my Dad passed away at the age of 52, only three years after I had married and moved away, Memorial Day took on a whole new meaning. It was now my turn to drive my mother to Medicine Lodge, and to Sun City to decorate graves.
Dad was a veteran, and that was a part of the meaning of the day, but it was mainly to remember my Dad and my Grandparents. So we followed the same routine; we went to Medicine Lodge, then Lake City and on to Sun City.
Daddy passed away in 1973, and Mom has been gone now since 2001, and it is now up to me. While doing some genealogy, I discovered a great-great-great-great Grandmother is buried in the same cemetery as my parents. Her first-born son was the great-great-great Grandfather of my Dad, so now I put a flower on her grave also. If it is possible I go every change of season and change the flowers; spring flowers on Memorial Day, fall, and Christmas.
I do not take live flowers like my Grandmother, but have used silk for many years, because they will stay nice until I can get back to the cemetery again. But, whether it is flowers in a Mason jar or a foil covered tin can, or silk put in the bronze vase on the stone, the sentiment is the same.
For me it is still a time to remember the ones we have loved and lost, it is not a time for camping and boating. I haven’t missed a single time decorating my parent’s graves, since 1973.
I wonder when I am gone or my generation is gone, who will keep the Memorial Day traditions alive and the graves decorated? Or will they just be empty, without anything to show that the people buried there were loved and are remembered? Memorial Day should be a day to remember the veterans who made our country free, and to remember the loved ones we have lost.
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