Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What I Did on Decoration Day

The drive to the cemetery where I expect to be buried is not far, about forty miles or so.  Only a few miles further on is where my grandparents were buried.  My great-grandfather lies there as well.  His grave is traditionally not decorated.  He was abusive, mistreated his wife and children, and would not allow my grandfather to go to school or even learn on his own to read or write so much as his name.  By the time Grandpa was out on his own, he had learned to "cipher" and to cope with life quite well despite being so handicapped. 

I visited both graveyards placing flowers and walking by the stones of those I knew.  One of my grandmother's Tennessee kin lies near her grave, his narrow, white stone noting his status as a Confederate soldier.  I smile to think of his remains resting among all those Republicans.  I am sure he no longer minds. 

Down the slope from where my parents and my brother-in-law repose, looking east across the creek, toward the coming Christ and home, there is a the stone that marks where we buried Uncle Joe.  I knew a man who fought beside Teddy Roosevelt in Cuba, lobbed shells into German positions in France, and fought fires in Seattle.  My wife and my sister remained by the graves up the slope as I carried a flag and a tiny spray of flowers down to Uncle Joe.  I was happy to have a few minutes alone there to see again his white head and big, gentle hands, to think of him handing me a bundle of pennies bound in a blue handkerchief like pirate's loot or sitting on a pond bank with a straw hat and a cane pole.  His grave was not bare because my sister had been there earlier.  When we are gone I do not know who will remember him, except the Lord.  Perhaps I will find some likely youth and tell him of Joe's consternation about being rejected for service in World War II and of the time he ran trot-lines at the Hurricane Hole in a thunderstorm with lightning striking all around and him standing in the boat as calm and content as a man in church listening to the children's choir. 

The other graveyard I visit is farther away.  It takes two hours go get there from my house.  I was tired.  I did not want to go, but there remains only one elderly family member in the area, and she slides ever farther into dementia and forgetfulness.  So I drove, and I thanked God for the Boy Scouts when I arrived.  The Scouts had found every veteran in the cemetery and placed a flag there.  We had four stones and six graves to decorate.  Three held the remains of a veteran, and their lonely flags waved proudly at us in the strong winds that blow across the hilltop.  We struggled in that wind to secure our bright reminders.  I was almost ready to go.  We had used up all the flowers we brought along before seeking the last grave, that of my friend, Bud, who put his life on the line for his country for twenty years.  I meant to add only another flag for Bud, assuming that his step-daughter and granddaughter would be have placed flowers.   He had certainly been a father to his wife's child, and he had practically raised the granddaughter. 

The ground was empty save for the Scout flag.  His small stone had been knocked off center of its base.  His death date, inscribed on the military marker at the grave's foot, was still missing from his headstone after four years.  I found some fragments of flowers we had in our box and bound them to my flag with a zip-tie.  It wasn't much, but it was better than nothing.  I knelt, straightened the stone and forced my little bundle into the hard ground so the meager covering might outlast the gale.  We will call this week to make sure his headstone is properly engraved and set.  

Until I lie alongside my people facing the rising sun, I will make that trip or see that it is made, and I will be better prepared next time.  Someone will be told about Uncle Joe and "Uncle" Bud and the Confederate and why we do not decorate Bill's grave.  If I am forgotten, it is a small thing, but these must be remembered.


  1. You're a good man Mush. Thanks for sharing those stories. Made me long for family and "place." My family is spread across the continent so we saw very few relatives growing up. I last saw Dad's parents graves in 1976 in MN. I've never seen my Mom's parents graves in CA. Dad, Aunt, and Unk are in Arlington, being WWII vets (and wife). That's 3 1/2 hours away. I should make the trip one of these years.

  2. Not so good, but I try.

    A lot of us are limited. I understand. We were in Dallas for a decade or so, and it was just impossible to get back. Fewer and fewer of us have any deep roots in a particular place, so we have to find other ways to connect with the past generations.

    I was fortunate to grow up where I did, when I did with so many relatives close by. One of my dad's brothers was in California and he had a sister in Wyoming, the rest were within a few miles of us. The same with my mom's side. Even when the younger generation moved away, it was mostly to places within fairly easy driving distance, and some of them -- like me -- have moved back to the general vicinity.