Memorial Day Weekend
I’ve been totally out straight for weeks now. If I’m not doing something, I’m thinking and planning. It’s great, highly engaging and makes life interesting. But I would like to kick the shifta into neutral for a day, maybe a few hours?
Memorial Day is the traditional kick off weekend for the summer. Hot dogs and pretzels and beer. The lazy, hazy days of summer. It’s also a time when we remember our veterans and departed family members.
When I was a kid my mother and grandmother would haul me to what seemed like dozens of cemeteries. From our yard, they would have fresh-cut tulips and lilacs to put on the graves of people I had never met. Sometimes they would have flowers from my grandmother’s cousins greenhouse, the O’loughlins. As an amateur genealogist I am getting to know these people now. Wonderful people lost to time, that dark shadow that stalks us all. I wish I had listened to the stories, I wish I could remember what I did hear.
As a grammar-school aged kid, I could not be bothered. The last thing I wanted to do was spend the day in the car with my grand mother and mother and drive from cemetery to cemetery for most of a day. It was something they did every year. It was ritual. It was family.
The living were looking after the dead. Somebody has a saying that as long as someone speaks your name you are not really dead. By tending to the graves of their cousins, uncles, parents and siblings they were breathing life into the memories of these departed souls. For a few brief moments, someone was thinking of this person and their life. They were alive in someone’s mind and they were important to someone for a few brief moments.
When I am doing genealogy research, sometimes I feel like I am dusting off the memory of the person I am researching. In a completely metaphysical way, I am dusting off their bones and breathing life into their memory. In my mind they are tilling the fields, getting married, tending the children, burying their children, going off to war. Falling in love. In a few minutes I can imagine someone’s entire life. It’s wonderful to have this ability to create a fantasy life of my ancestors from nothing more than a few dates and maybe a photo. Sometimes it is depressing to know they are all gone, every day of their lives has been completed. Sometimes I wonder how they felt in those last moments. We all know the joys and pains of life, but nothing of the end.
Going to the cemetery and placing flowers breathes life into the memory of those we have lost. Some that we never knew. Do we owe it to them, or to ourselves?
Live well my friends,