When I was a young girl, we went every Memorial Day (Decoration Day, back then) to put flowers on the graves of our departed ones. The flowers came from our gardens, no one ever bought hothouse flowers from the florist shops. It was too late for the snowballs and lilacs, and too early for the dahlias, but my grandmother's peonies were at their peak and my aunt always had armloads of Madonna lilies and there were roses and irises and other early summer bloomers. We would fill buckets and jars and pile them into the car and then Auntie Dimp, the World's Worst Driver, would get behind the wheel and we would take off in a series of neck-cracking lurches and jerks as she released the clutch. Quite often she would kill the engine and have to start all over. But eventually we made it to the local cemetery.
We did not have many graves to decorate in those days. My sister, Thelma, who died at the age of 22 of pneumonia, and my Uncle Lee. He was struck by a car late one night while crossing the street in Vancouver. I always figured he was drunk, but whether I surmised this or picked it up from the whispers of the older members of the family, I don't remember. He was a World War I veteran of the campaigns in France and returned home as so many young men did then, as now, damaged and anchorless. (As a side note, many years later, after my father's death, my mother married Tom Crable, Lee's wartime buddy.) In addition to those two, there were a few neighbors and friends.
It was not long before the graves in our family began to add up. My grandfather, my grandmother and my father. Followed by the aunts and uncles and then the cousins, one by one. My brother and sister. My nephews. A baby grand-nephew. Today, except for four elderly cousins, I am the only remaining member of my generation on either side of my family. Having good genes and living a long life has its pluses, but the minuses are many.
For many years, after I moved far away, I sent money to my sister to buy some of those hothouse flowers to put on the graves. Today, it would take a truckload of blossoms to honor the resting places of my family. Not only in the little local cemetery, which has grown into many acres, but scattered in graveyards all over Clark county, where most of them lived and died.
As a child, I don't remember the patriotic and military aspects of this holiday. We had not been in so many wars then. I suppose there were parades and celebrations in the towns but we lived far out in the country and I think the height of our holidaying was the usual huge family pot-luck at the home of one of the relatives.
Memorial Day has a whole new meaning to me now than it did in those far-off days. Members of my family have been to war and I have lost a friend in battle. Our country is much more belligerent than it was then and we are engaged in conflicts of doubtful merit. But my heart is with the young men and women who fight these battles and I am filled with admiration for their services. While I remember my loved ones as I always have on this day, I add the thousands of brave warriors who have died in combat in far-off lands and I hope and wish that their sacrifices will be worthy of the courage they displayed.