I grew up in a house that was built for my grandparents. There are still three stone steps in the middle of the yard that once led to a path to the house next door where my great-grandparents lived. The yard is large and filled with trees that are older than I am. It is steeped in my family’s history. My sister lives there now, the current keeper of our traditions.
At this time every year, the peonies that line the patio outside of the little cabin in the backyard are blooming. The smell of peonies always brings me back to Memorial Day weekend as a child. One of my jobs was to cut the flowers that we would leave at the cemetery when we visited. Some years I’d wrap the peonies in wet paper towels and foil to try to keep them alive, other years we’d put them in a bucket of water.
What came next rarely varied. Each year we visited all of the local cemeteries where my grandpa and great-grandparents and many other distant family members were buried.
My grandma would tell me the stories of her mother Anna and her brothers Clinton who died in infancy and Clifford whose first wife passed away. She would tell me about her sister Josephine, and we would visit the Stuben and Bowles family plots.
Then we would climb the hill to find Roy and Hannah, my great-grandparents on another side. And as a child, that’s how I thought of it, as “visiting Roy and Hannah”. They were there on that day. They were very much there on those days.
Not only did we visit family, we visited others who passed away too young and told the stories about their lives.
Over the years the tradition changed. Eventually we were visiting my grandma there as well. And sadly we started visiting friends of mine who died too young. The memory of their passing is sad, but the memories of their lives are wonderful. The tradition is about keeping that memory alive.
My daughter Hunter is the keeper of traditions in my immediate family. She was born on Memorial Day in 1997, so our Memorial Day traditions are different than mine were growing up. We frequently had her family birthday party on Memorial Day. Different traditions, but still a time set aside for telling stories and remembering.
My wish for you this weekend is time to reflect on the love of those you’ve lost, and of course, to reflect on those we’ve lost who gave the greatest measure in service to our freedom.