Monday, June 30, 2008

Neglected Graves

"Neglected graves are a shameful thing," according to Martha Corinne Walton. I must agree.

When I was a little girl, Memorial Day was far more than just a day off from school. It was an exciting and very special day indeed, greatly anticipated in the days preceding it. For on Memorial Day, my grandparents would help me cut flowers off the big bush in their front yard, and the whole family would head to the local cemeteries to place the flowers on the various family graves.

"Don't waste your money on flowers for me," my grandfather would say. "Just pick me some flowers out of the yard, that's all I want."

This tradition has endured for generations in our family. My grandmother told me that when she was a little girl, she too celebrated Memorial Day, or Decoration Day, by going with her grandmother up to the family cemetery on the hillside behind their farmhouse to decorate the graves. It's a tradition we continue to pass on to the next generation, as well. Little Girl is now the one cutting the flowers off that very same bush that I once did, and true to my grandfather's wishes, she decorates his grave with them each Memorial Day.

My grandmother left the family farm when she was married and moved to the city several hours' drive away. In the next few years, the rest of her family moved out and the farm was sold. But those family members continued to return to the old farm to care for the family cemetery on the hill. I went several times with my grandparents when I was little to mow and trim the cemetery. Several members of my grandmother's family took turns so that each of them only had to go out a couple times a year to mow, but through the decades, the cemetery was always well-maintained.

My grandmother is the only surviving member of her family now, and at 85 years of age, hasn't been able to make the trip to the family cemetery in years. This weekend, we decided to take her, and most of the family went along to see the old farm that most of us hadn't seen in many years.

When we arrived, we were in for quite a shock. The owners of the property hadn't kept the cemetery cleaned off at all. Weeds grew 4-5 feet in height, filling the entire cemetery. I understand that the present owners don't know anyone in the cemetery; it isn't their family. But I would be ashamed to have a cemetery on my property and allow it to look like that. It's disrespectful, and it wouldn't be that much effort just to use a weedeater 2 or 3 times a summer to keep it from getting out of hand.

My grandmother didn't say anything. I can't even imagine what must have been going through her mind to see the cemetery she spent so many decades returning to care for in the shape it was currently in. To be brought up within a family who emphasized the importance in caring for the family graves, to teach her own children and grandchildren and now great-grandchildren to keep flowers on the graves, and then to come back to her family cemetery after all these years and see the graves of her beloved grandparents, her brother, a niece and two nephews in such condition. It was heartbreaking to even think about it.

Orange lilies sprinkled amongst the weeds at least added a bit of color and beauty to the mess. My grandmother said that her grandmother always kept flowers growing around the cemetery -- and those were the very kind of flowers she planted. How interesting to think that the flowers she planted close to a hundred years ago bloom on her own grave today. Despite the lack of care given to the cemetery, she ensured that flowers would grow on the family graves for many years to come.

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