I have never gone away for Memorial Weekend. It’s just not something I ever did growing up. What we did was cut a lot of rhododendrons, enough to fill the entire trunk of the car, and drive down to the cemetery where most of my dad’s family is buried. There’s no ceremony, although I have often wished we had one. We just put the flowers down, look around, say, “It looks nice,” and go out for breakfast.
We lay flowers for everyone we know, not just military members. Dad is practical. I don’t think it ever entered his mind not to go through these formalities, but he also keeps it simple. I like that about him.
Sometimes I bring the kids along, but usually I don’t. This year, none of them were around for it. Long ago (or, maybe eight years ago), Dagne and Sophie wanted to do the honors for some of the graves, so I said, “Find Uncle George. He has a flag on his grave and he’s near my mother Lillian.” They ran off, flowers in hand.
Soon, they were back, triumphant. I scanned the area where I knew the headstones were located. They looked rather…blank. I asked, “What did you do with the flowers?” They insisted they put them on George and Lillian’s graves. I walked over, and discovered they had done that, only it was some other George near some other Lillian. This George even had a flag.
When I told them, they thought it was close enough. So much for ancestor worship.
Even though I have compiled thousands of entries in the five massive trees I created on ancestry.com, there is always something new to find. I let my subscription go dormant, but on holidays they often open up certain records for free, so I go wild. Really, this is how I go wild.
I went to an aunt’s memorial service yesterday. It was a sadly small gathering, because my aunt had outlived nearly all her contemporaries, but also, I believe, because of the holiday weekend. Memorial Day means college graduation, camping, sales, and barbeques for many people. Ironic, considering why the day was created. I don’t begrudge anyone a barbeque, but it makes me sad that so many never even think of visiting a cemetery, on that day or any other day.
While talking with some cousins after the service, I asked one where her mother (who I remember fondly) was buried. “Oh, that one on the hill. I never visit. She even said, before she died, ‘Who is going to put flowers on my grave?’ and I said, ‘No one, I guess.'”
It isn’t that she didn’t love her mother. It’s not that she didn’t provide a nice headstone. To her, that’s it. She’s done her bit and it’s over. There’s no reason to visit. But she grew up with her biological, intact family. And her mother lived into old age. She could take it for granted. I never could.
It makes sense that I’m the family historian. Besides being analytical by nature, I never had the luxury of thinking, “Genealogy doesn’t matter. DNA doesn’t matter.” I knew otherwise. And I when I have delved into others’ family trees, and made some satisfying discoveries, they admitted that maybe it does matter. A little.
The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living. ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero
The Western world has strayed from not only not honoring their dead, but now outright ignore them. We worship dead celebrities, but don’t know our own grandparents’ birth dates. We don’t know their stories. We have no idea how their lives affect us even now.
It’s not about flowers. It’s not about cemeteries or ceremonies. It’s about remembering. And not only that, searching. Finding what was lost. It matters.
Elle Cuardaigh is author of The Tangled Red Thread http://tinyurl.com/lreve2l