Sunday was Decoration Day at the cemetery where most of my mother's family are buried. It is located two dirt roads off the nearest paved road, set on the tiniest of hills amongst a grove of trees and encompassed entirely by a chain link fence. It is surrounded on all sides by open fields, with no houses or other structures within at least a quarter-mile.
When the birds are singing and the wind rustles thru the trees, it is one of the most peaceful places I know. It's a haunting, chilling, yet calming wind, as if the past is speaking.
Three of my uncles, one aunt, two grandparents, and two great-grandparents lie there. Along with distant cousins, great aunts and uncles, and other relatives, many I don't remember or never met.
Decoration is a day set aside each year for families and loved ones to come and place flowers and other memorials on the gravesites of the departed. It is most often held on a Saturday or Sunday in May or early June. The specifics vary from cemetery to cemetery.
Some cemeteries have a memorial service and a speaker on Decoration Day. Some even serve dinner afterward. Others have a more informal gathering of family and friends. Some churches also hold special Decoration services.
Many cemeteries hold a cleanup day a week or so before Decoration. Volunteers come to mow, rake, landscape, and clean the grounds, and often remove old flowers from the graves.
I remember one of my uncles going every year to mow the grass, weed the graves, and put mulch or rocks around them. Now, he lies there, too. And younger uncles have taken over that responsibility.
Everytime I vist, I can't believe how long it has been since my grandmother passed. A little over fifteen years now. In my mind, I'm reaching out to grab it, but it just keeps getting further and further away.
There are graves that seem to have been untouched, and I imagine unvisited, for many years. That always pulls at my heart. And I wonder about them. Did they not live just the same, were they not just as valuable as all these others?
I wonder if my loved ones will ever wind up like that. As generations pass on and on and on, are we all eventually forgotten?
Thousands of dollars are spent each year on Decoration Day, as many of the gravesites are renewed with beautiful flowers and colorful arrangements. But Decoration is not just about flowers to me. It's about family. It's about remembering those who have passed, and reminding myself where I came from.
I see people at Decoration I don't see any other time of the year. Sunday, I saw my 82-year-old great uncle who I haven't seen in probably three or four years. He was standing next to my mother. She's about 5 feet tall, and he looked to be three or four inches shorter than her.
He was hobbling around with a walking stick. He has a bad hip and a bad this and a bad that. He's very hard of hearing, and doesn't recognize as many faces as he used to. But every year, he buys flowers and decorates the graves of his mother, his brother, and his sister's three infant children.
That's Decoration Day.
It's part of my heritage and it's part of me. A part I don't want to let go of. Sometimes it feels like my generation--my sister and I, my first cousins, and their children--is letting go. Like we're losing something valuable. Something that cannot be reclaimed.
As I was leaving Sunday, creeping down the dry, dusty road, I took one last look at the little cemetery on the hill. So colorful. So quiet and peaceful. The little grove of trees providing shade. The winds of the past continuing to blow, beckoning...
"Some days the sky's so blue, I feel like I can talk to you. And I know it might sound crazy..."