We observed the holiday for two days this year — on Sunday and Monday. Joe was able to get home for the weekend, and we all spent time in the pool and sitting around talking and eating. It was an informal, virtually unplanned, and absolutely organic period of time.
I thought about Memorial Days when my sister and I were kids in Indiana, and the rituals we observed. When my mother’s mother was still alive, we drove the 40 or so miles west to her house early in the morning, and cut peonies which we put into glass jars. Buffy and I shared the responsibility for shaking getting the ants out of the peonies so we wouldn’t have extra passengers on the car ride to the cemetery.
Once we arrived at Forest Hills on the edge of Greencastle, the work began to clean up the family graves from the winter and early spring. We weeded and trimmed, and made sure everything was in good order. The faded Mother’s Day tributes were tossed, and the jars filled with peonies were placed on the graves, as close to the headstones as we could get. The little flags waved over the names of the veterans, and even as children we were aware of how many there were, even in a small town cemetery.
After we had driven the circular road through the cemetery and checked on the resting places of friends and neighbors, we headed for the network of countryroads that lurched through Putnam County. We’d find a place along a creek or the river, and we would stay for the day on blankets spread out in a shady spot, coolers and thermos bottles close at hand.
Buffy and I combed the creek beds for interesting rocks and crawdads, and we always stayed much later than we had intended. The ride home was filled with the smell of mud and leftover food. The grown-ups would talk, and my sister and I took it all in. Much of what I know about my family I learned pretending to be asleep, riding in the back seat of one sedan or the other.
Yesterday, I looked at my desert-raised adult children, and I knew that tipping rocks over in a creek is something that never became a ritual for them. And since most of our dead are in urns or graves on the other side of the country, trips to the cemetery here in Arizona are not a part of our usual routine.
But we still have a rhythm, a pattern of our own. It was Memorial Day, and much will be remembered.