Continuing the tradition

It’s hard to believe that Memorial Day weekend is here already. After the long, cold, snowy winter, this weekend traditionally marks the start of summer. Kids will soon be out of school, summer sports will begin and the county fair is just around the corner.

But for most people, Memorial Day is really more than just a time for picnics or parties. It’s a time to remember and honor those who died serving their country. The official holiday, which was formerly known as Decoration Day, started just after the Civil War as a way to honor both Union and Confederate soldiers who were killed in the war. Later on, it was expanded as a day to pay tribute to all Americans who died during military service.

To many of us, it’s also a time to remember all of our loved ones who have passed on. That’s a tradition that my parents and even my grandparents observed through the years. As the daughter and granddaughter of funeral directors, I understand the importance they placed on respecting, honoring and remembering our ancestors. They would visit the graves of our relatives and plant flowers or place a bouquet at the base of the gravestone. When my mom was alive, we traveled to Des Moines each year to visit my grandmother’s grave. I doubt I could locate that grave today.

For the past several years, my Dad and I would handle the cemetery detail for Memorial Day. I enjoyed going with him because it gave me a chance to hear stories about my grandparents and other ancestors. During those trips back to Madrid, we’d also take a little tour of the town to see all of places he had lived in his nearly 70 years there and make we’d make note of things that had changed since our last visit.

Last year, Dad was too sick to make the trip, but my brother and I met in Madrid and planted the flowers. We visited our mother’s grave, grandparents and my sister and niece’s graves. Afterwards, we stopped at the nursing home to see Dad and to let him know the task had been completed. He questioned us about the placement of flowers and had we taken the tour of the town? Through the magic of our camera phones, we were able to show him our work. He seemed pleased.

Just a week later, Dad passed away.

I’m carrying on the Memorial Day tradition this year with the help of Larry and Daniel. We’ll load up the car with containers of flowers and a shovel. We’ll head to Madrid and Boone to stop at the family graves.

I think it’s an important for Daniel to know about his ancestors and their part of our family history. He needs to know that a distant grandmother helped found the town of Madrid and that a grandfather knew Samuel Clemens – otherwise known as Mark Twain. He needs to know that his great-grandmother was a wonderful pianist and studied music at a university at the turn-of-the-20th century.

And he needs to know and remember his grandfather who absolutely delighted in everything my son did. Dad told me on many occasions that he felt blessed to be able to get to know Daniel and watch him grow.

So, this year, Memorial Day will be bittersweet. We’ll carry on the tradition and we’ll remember what Dad meant to all of us.