Memorial Day is a time to remember the men and women in the armed forces who have served our country and lost their lives defending it. Cemeteries are adorned with flags and flowers to not only celebrate these lives, but also honor them.
But for me, Memorial Day has additional meanings. One, it’s a day my family and friends come together to barbecue and fellowship. Sometimes this is the only quality time we have together. We talk about days of ole and catch up on the latest happenings in each others’ lives. It’s a joyous occasion.
Two, I’m reminded of the diligence of my great-aunt Dollie who made it her mission to
place small, artificial bouquets on the graves of her loved ones. Each year she’d enlist the help of family members, but often she was the lone volunteer. She continued this tradition until the age of 90 when her health failed.
As a kid, cemeteries spooked me. Plus, most of my relatives are buried near cattle pastures. So you can imagine the smells. This was a deterrent for me, but not my great-aunt. She loved her family even in death.
When I was 17, my mother and I joined Aunt Dollie in laying the imitation roses, carnations, and daisies on the plots. I held my breath as I completed the task, making sure to stick close to the areas where the grass was cleared.
Somewhere along the way I didn’t care about the stench anymore. I was captivated by the names and dates on the tombstones. Some I recognized – only from the colorful stories my mom and other family members shared or the aged photos sitting on mantles. I’d never met them. But somehow I felt a loss, yet still connected to who they were. And there I stood, hovering above them wondering what it would have been like to actually know them and they know me.
I also received a history lesson on my day in the cemetery. Many of the cracked and broken headstones were of former slaves – some my ancestors. It was hard to distinguish names or dates from the rubble, but Aunt Dollie knew who was who. How amazing to have lived long enough to know.
She also shared that the church nearby, bearing the same name as the cemetery, once held Sunday school for slaves. I’d heard similar stories in my high school history class. But it felt so different standing in the midst of the graves. It was humbling to say the least.
In my adult years, I’ve taken what I could remember along with months of research to formulate a family tree spanning seven generations (including our newest additions). I’ve shared the information with other family members in hopes that they will pass it on to their children, grandchildren, and beyond.
And now that Aunt Dollie is resting among her family, I honor her with this post. I remember…and I pray that others will too.