What a glorious thing it is to remember the lives of those folks who lived and died before us. My life has been enriched an infinite amount of times by learning about the history of PEOPLE on this planet.
In school I found History incredibly B...O...R...I...N...G. I mean, come on, in the grand scheme of things who cares what YEAR Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Well, actually the native peoples that he enslaved, tortured, and called "Indians," when he was nowhere near India, no doubt care, but that's a topic for a different day.
Once again, Memorial Day is approaching. I have joyous memories of this holiday. My parents would load up the trunk of our car with enormous containers filled with water and flowers they grew themselves. They would weigh the containers down with rocks to keep them from spilling the water they contained.
Once we were laden with flowers, then Mama would pack our things...and I actually think that more than once I witnessed the kitchen sink joining our belongings! OK, probably not, but really and truly, if we were left to survive on the things that Mama packed I think that we could have lasted at least a year. Trust me, that's a conservative estimate.
Once the poor car was so filled that the tires were bulging, we would climb in, and off we would start. I was much younger than my siblings (please remind them of that if you see them), and so I had many golden Memorial Day memories with just my parents after my siblings were married and creating their own Memorial Day wonders. (We did the same Memorial Day wanderings before they were married. I guess I was just too young to remember)?
The drive was punctuated by stops at family tombstones that led from Utah along a wandering path to Idaho. We would sing together such notable hits as, "Old Grumbler is Dead and Laid Under the Ground," (it especially seemed appropriate on Memorial Day), "Oh the Moon Shines Tonight on Pretty Redwing," all the old family songs that we had sung all of my life as we drove hither and yon. I'm serious in saying, I'm certain that I saw YON many, many times in our travels.
We would also play car games. One involved looking for things on a list. The list that I'm certain my parents had created. You won immediately if you saw an outhouse with the door open, or a white horse. It had to be completely and totally white, the horse, not the outhouse, what were you thinking? Wink...sorry, you'll have to provide your own emoticon for the word wink.
As we wound down from those enjoyable activities my parents would tell me family stories. One of my favorites was about Jane Tinto McKechnie Bee Hatch, (her name is so pretty). She and her Mother were widowed at almost the same time in Scotland. They joined the Church of Jesus Christ of latter day saints. Their wish to be joined with others of their faith motivated them to leave all that was familiar. They left their old life in the quest for a better life.
Janette (the Mama) married after arriving in Utah. There were stories passed down through the family that it was not the happiest of marriages. She was buried in a small cemetery. Her grave was left for over a hundred years unmarked, unregistered. My Mama's family organization discovered where she had been buried, and they all contributed to get her a tombstone. That was one of the places we went each year.
This was before I realized that the flowers we were placing carefully on each grave that we visited were only symbols. Important symbols, to be sure, but symbols. My parents lovingly gardened. Our enormous garden was their happy place. They had planted, nurtured, and witnessed the growth of each and every bloom. Those flowers meant far more to them than any carefully arranged flower shop creation ever could.
Remembrance was the symbol of these flowers. My parents taught me that each of us has a backstory, a heritage that must be remembered. It's not about being stuck in the past, especially if your past has more negative than positive. It's about using the past as an example, a template to guide our lives in the present.
These two intrepid grannies of mine, (back to the story) left their past homeland, heritage, and traditions, to carve out a new future for themselves and their children. Literally, because of them, and their children, entirely new settlements were carved out, places where many reap the blessings of their sacrifice.
I always felt closely connected to Jane Tinto McKechnie Bee Hatch. I love the rich Scottish march of her surnames, and the stories that they tell.
I often dreamed of traveling to Scotland. I wanted to be physically in the place and space where she spent the first portion of her life. My husband, and our two adult children traveled there. We sat on a bench and ate lunch. The area around the bench had not changed much in two hundred years. The same rowhouses were behind us. The same lovely church was in front of us. In my unlimited imagination, she were there to meet us. I could imagine her speaking with her Scottish accent.
Why is Memorial Day important? It's a lovely thing to have a paid vacation. I believe most folks these days see it as another day to boat, hike, bike, any and all of which are worthwhile occupations. Maybe, just maybe, as you take your family to bike, hike, etc. you could tell them stories. The very best types of stories, the stories about who they came from, and what the ancestor's life experience taught them.
Passing our heritage along to the next generation may lend them a source or serenity in times of conflict and trial. We all need examples. Inspiration from examples of the past can enrich our lives. Even when the examples are negative (there is a reason for that skeletons in the closet phrase), we can see that we wish to do better, be better!
You don't need to literally decorate the tombstones of your family. I believe that they wish to be remembered and don't really care where you perform that activity. I realize that in today's fast paced, technology driven lives it can be easy to overlook remembrance. Maybe, just maybe you can sneak one story in while your teenagers are stuck in a boat, and can't escape to their bedrooms, or their technology. I believe that those beloved folks who lived and died before us, those same people that often sacrificed so much for their families, are watching US. They are witnessing what we are doing with this precious time that we call life.
One last story. When we moved to Portland, Memorial Day made me very sad. We were not near enough to drive to any of he cemeteries that I had visited with my parents in the past. I had wanted to pass on my parents tradition of remembering all those loved ones who had passed away.
Then the inspiration hit! We could adopt a grave. In the 19th century people were buried in cemeteries with no maintenance performed except by the family members. Literally, Memorial Day was used as a day to clean and improve graveyards where your loved ones were buried. I remember in my childhood going to the small cemetery of my paternal grandparents. It was a party. People would come in the morning, and decorate their family plots. They would bring cookies, or lemonade, sandwiches galore, potato salad, all types of delicious foods. The family would stay all day connecting with loved ones as they came to honor their dead. It was a grand family reunion.
I believe that each and every human born on this planet is connected. I believe that we are brothers and sisters. With this philosophy, we adopted a grave that seemed to be particularly neglected. One tombstone we literally had to dig up out of the earth each and every year. It was the humblest stone that I had ever witnessed. It was made from some sort of heavy aluminum. An electric pen was used to scratch the name and dates. Helen Klaypacz. She was in the humblest part of the graveyard. There was a section where people were buried when they had no family, and no resources. Helen was in this section. Year after year, we would again dig her tombstone up, up, out of the thick Oregon peat.
Why? Why did we care about a total stranger? She wasn't a total stranger to us. She became family as we lovingly cared for this final resting place of her earthly life. I don't know if our girls learned from this simple activity. I DID! I learned how important it is to remember the lives of others. I learned that this type of simple service created a special feeling of love in my heart.
In the Old Testament in the Bible a prophet named Malachi spoke of a time when he would, "Turn the hearts of the children to their Father's, and the hearts of the Father's to the children..." Connection, remembrance, memorial, all these words are important, but especially on Memorial Day.