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Memorial Day Tradition

Other things may change us, but we start and end with family.  ~Anthony Brandt

Kyle helping with his dad's flowers. Pap's headstone is in the background. 5/26/12

Every year since I can remember, my mom and I have been going to the cemeteries to plant flowers at the headstones of deceased family members.  Specifically, my mom’s parents and her grandparents.  Before my Aunt Katherine passed away, mom and I would also take Aunt Katherine to plant flowers on Uncle Frank’s headstone, her husband.  Uncle Frank and my grand pap Chester were brothers, so there’s the relation.  Participating in this tradition has allowed me to have a comfortableness with final resting places.  Little did I know, what eventually was down the road, now the present, has helped bring a sort of peace to me with death, loss and tragedy.  I have practically grown up with such a familiarity for Saint Vincent and Bethel Cemeteries that they are like an extension to me, my peaceful place.  Planting flowers is one of those small gestures that really mean a lot, makes me feel like I’m doing something for someone else, even if they are no longer physically with us.  It is also a way of getting to know those who have moved on before my time.  You see, inevitably there is always a story or two that was brought about while tending to their occupied space.  So in a way mom and I have a good time planting.

This past weekend continued our family tradition.  Some years my dad and sister would join us and ever since Kyle was able to walk, we’ve brought him along.  He’s great company, a big help and it’s important that Kyle knows the family, experiences a family tradition and Kyle has the opportunity to visit his dad’s final resting place.  We talk about Ryan, but it’s another gesture to keeping his spirit alive and the with days going by so quickly, it’s easy to have an extended period of time pass before making an appearance.

Without sounding morbid or demented in any way, I will admit I truly enjoy this repetition in history.  Going to the greenhouse to pick out the flowers, visiting all the grave sites, digging up the ground and making them look cheerful and inviting.  Freshly planted flowers shows someone was there, someone is missed, and someone cared about them.

Kyle taking a break by was already getting hot out. 5/26/12

Each year I would pick a theme, either a certain color motif or specific flowers.  This year since we’ve already had such an early spring, and a hot one at that, I talked to the greenhouse lady and she suggested waxed begonia’s since they do well in the heat and they will bush out and fill up the space.  Sold!  This year we planted four colors of waxed begonias.  While at the greenhouse, I always get a variety of flowers to plant at my house as well, along with the left overs from the cemetery.

Kyle is always a big help, but this year he really pulled through for me!  He carried the flowers back and forth, watered all the freshly planted greenery, removed the trash, filled up and carried water containers and helped dig a few holes.  Now, I am not a big fan of direct sunlight, being fair skinned I burn!  To get around the inevitable and to ‘beat the heat’ so to say, we started our tasks early.  Getting up around 6:00 am, we were out the door by 7:00 – 7:30 am.  I think by that time, the temperature already reached the 70s.  At it’s highest on Saturday I think it topped off in the 90s.  Crap it was hot!  Most cemeteries are laid out in the open sky, under the direct sunlight, which held true for our locations.  By the time we hit our last stop, Bethel Cemetery on the ridge, it was HOT and it was around noon, the hottest part of the day.  Kyle was so kind as to hold a golf umbrella over both of us while I planted.  Believe it or not it made a difference, the sun wasn’t searing our skins and there was a noticeable temperature change in the shade.  Mom sat in the shade most of the day since her joints where talking back and she was showing clear signs of old age.  Mom acted as our GPS all day, getting me to the cemeteries and pointing where the plots were location.  As I’ve mentioned, I am Directionally Challenged.

Aunt Katherine and Uncle Frank's headstone

Going in chronological order, we first hit Saint Joseph’s Cemetery to address Aunt Katherine’s and Uncle Frank’s headstone.  Usually my cousin John takes care of his parents’ plots but he wasn’t able to make it out from Philadelphia this year.  That gave me the honor of taking the responsibility and gave me an excuse to visit, since I haven’t been there in quite some time.  My Uncle Frank died when I was in the third grade or so, but my Aunt Katherine passed away years later.  She was a great lady, very feisty, strong willed.  I loved her spirit!  She was an old lady with a fight left in her until she passed away.  My mom and I would help her get groceries once every few weeks or so, whenever she needed them.  She would walk through the grocery store and read all the labels.  As a kid I would get impatient, never showing that to her, but expressing it to my mom.  Looking back on it now, I’m turning into that person and I have to laugh because I really enjoyed going grocery shopping with Aunt Katherine.  Not only was she a spitfire but she was also hard of hearing.  Not to be rude, but most people who are hard of hearing crack me up!  She never understood what I was saying, I guess I didn’t speak loud enough, although my mom had no trouble communicating with Aunt Katherine.  Hearing them walk through the store was like two people using bull horns to communicate.  She was  such a great lady, she would always say something funny toward me to keep in included in their conversation.  Sometimes it was just an ornery grin and a nob of the head, but I understood and smiled.

As were planting the headstones, I remembered the times we would pick up Aunt Katherine.  She would never hear us knocking at the door and she certainly never heard us letting ourselves in. There was the occasional scare, which is not a good thing to do to an elderly woman, as we came around the corner.  However, Aunt Katherine did get us back, sometimes when we would pick her up, she would lay down on the couch to rest before the big adventure.  Naturally she wouldn’t hear us walking through the door as she laid on her back, on the couch resting.  I never wanted to be the one to nudge Aunt Katherine and wake her, just in case God made a visit.  I would observe from a distance to see if her chest was rising and falling as mom would try to be subtle.  Once after waking her from her nap, she told me and mom about a dream she had either that day or shortly before.  Now, keep in mind, I was preteen or in my early teens when she told the story, so I know I don’t remember all the details, but she talked about this angel who was hovering over her while she laid on the couch.  Actually that story never scared me, but was very intriguing.

Aunt Mary & Uncle Walter's headstone

Even as a kid I always enjoyed Aunt Katherine’s company and her determination. When she would talk to mom and mention how tired she was, mom would ask her, “Well Aunt Katherine, what did you do today?” with a reply of “I had to scrub down the walls.” or “I needed to clean out the cupboards.”  It was an endless cycle that my mom couldn’t understand, but I got it, I knew exactly where she was coming from.  Boy, I do miss Aunt Katherine!  One day I’ll also talk about Uncle Frank, I don’t want to shun him out, but that’s for another story.

Yep, once we hit Saint Joesph’s Cemetery we headed for Saint Vincent’s Cemetery.  This one was the big stop on our tour.  As every year dictates we stop at grand pap Chester’s, mom’s mom, and her grand pap and grand ma’s sites.  Days before we leave to go on our excursion, mom calls around to see if anyone wants us to swing by their family plot and tend to them.  This year my cousin Paula asked that we take care of her parents.  Paula’s dad and my grand pap Chester were brothers and she was Ryan’s godmother.  Again, it really is not a chore in the slightest, I do enjoy planting the flowers and visiting.  This year we stopped by my Aunt Mary and Uncle Walter’s headstone and added them to our list.

Two cemeteries down, and we planted eight plots, and that wasn’t even my big order.  Once we make our way to the ridge, that’s my last stop and one that consumes a good part of the day.  I do spend a lot of time at my brothers headstone.  Not to discredit the planting I do for everyone else, but I will admit I do take a little extra time and plant probably way too many flowers on Ryan’s.  By the time we wrap up pap’s, baby Piper’s and Dale’s- a friend of the family’s, I am beat and ready to call it a day.  But it certainly is a day of satisfaction and peace, always looking forward to it the next year.

Yep I truly enjoy this tradition.  As weird as it may sound I plan around it and look forward to it every year.  Pardon the pun, but I have a feeling I will be keeping this tradition alive, only I will have a few more stops to make.

Published inChurchEducation & LearningFamilyMilestoneObservation & ImaginationReminiscing

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