Memorial Day was always special growing up.
There’s a small rural cemetery in the hills of north-central Pennsylvania where at least half of the graves are my relations in some way, tracing back to before the Civil War. Every Sunday before Memorial Day, there was a small parade and ceremony. The local high school band filed off the school bus, marching solemnly up the drive to the top of the cemetery. Local veterans including my uncle, wedged into their old uniforms, stood at loose attention along the fence line, ready to salute. The local pastor stood over the crowd behind an old microphone (there was always feedback), as the crowd gathered among the grave-sites. My family often congregated in the top far corner in between the headstones of my deceased great grandparents, distant aunts and uncles. My personal favorite was to stand by the monument to my great, great, great grandfather, a Union soldier who survived the war, a POW in a field hospital in Washington DC, only to have a leg amputated, survive typhoid and finally
make it home.
The 21-gun salute often caused the horses in the adjacent field to run in crazy circles, the most entertaining part when you’re a little kid. My dad would get each of us poppies from the Ladies Auxiliary, crafted in cloth and wire, to wrap around the buttons of our sweaters, a sign that we remembered on that day. As the ceremony wrapped up, the band would march back to the bus, our family would linger, sharing stories of those who had passed, visiting the newest grave-sites and tending after the markers that delineated the location of their final resting place one day (Yes, my parents planned ahead, and I’ve known since I was a kid where my parents would end up.) Everyone would eventually disperse, creating a car caravan to a nearby family member’s farm for a small family reunion.
Those memories of Memorial Day seem literally a million light years away. The world and my personal concerns were completely different. I haven’t been back for a family Memorial Day in years, and under current circumstances I’m not sure they would even have the event this year. What I am sure of, is that the small cemetery is as beautiful this time of year as ever, and with every passing spring, it becomes more of a family cemetery than the year before. I also know that even though I’m not physically there, that patch of ground is a reminder of who and what I came from. It’s not lost on me that I live in the very part of the country where my predecessors fought certain death to survive and make it home.
Someday this moment in history will become a family story passed down from generation to generation; what we did, how we coped and how the world changed as a result. The story won’t include what kind of bread we did or didn’t bake, how many days a week we managed to workout or whether we made the decision to get a pandemic puppy. (For the record, we got Abby BEFORE the pandemic!). The story will be about how we helped our neighbors find toilet paper when there was none, learning how to actually be with our families again, and after 70 days finding that we actually get along! The stories will be about how we changed our habits to support our local community, took steps to keep each other safe and healthy and eventually found our way to a better way of living, emphasizing support of our physical and mental well-being. (Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself now.)
Next Memorial Day, while I’ll look back on the memories of my childhood, I’m hoping to have new memories of the Memorial Day spent in quarantine, knowing that this time is making each of us stronger and more resilient. These are traits that were bestowed upon me that I hope will live on.
I hope each of you were able to make memories of your own and had a safe and healthy holiday weekend.