Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dancing in the Graveyard

Maybe you don't think about a cemetery being a joyful place. But when I see the joy in these two little girls' faces, I can't help but think that the ancestors whose graves we were visiting had to be smiling.

Was their blonde hair from a distant grandparent? Were their blue eyes from a great-grandfather? If you compared their hands to those in an old photograph, would the shape of their fingers be echoed in the image?

Paige & Jill - 1988

For some families, Memorial Day may mean the first chance to get the boat out on the lake. It may mean a cookout with hamburgers and hotdogs and the summer's first s'mores.

For our family, Memorial Day has always included the annual cemetery tour.

For my Dad, Memorial Day holds special significance. Both his father and little brother died when he was still in elementary school. Memorial Day was a time to remember them, as well as others in the family who had passed on. It was a time to pay respects to the family members who homesteaded in South Central Kansas and established the farm where my Dad and brother still farm today.

Our annual trek always includes stops at four different cemeteries in Stafford and Pratt Counties. We may reverse the order, but we always visit Pratt's Greenlawn Cemetery, the Iuka Cemetery, Pleasant Plains Cemetery and Macksville. This afternoon is the 2010 version.

(New life in an old cemetery at Pleasant Plains: Brent's first Memorial Day, May 1988)

The trip involves a trunk load of fresh flowers - never silk.

My Grandma's flowers were usually from her own garden and carefully arranged in cans which my Grandpa had spray-painted a dark green.

(There she is in the background with my Grandpa in 1989. Brent, 1, is with my Dad, and the young-looking guy in the middle is Randy.)

Blake & Brent - 1989

When Jill was little, she noticed a marker with a little lamb in the Peace Creek Cemetery just a mile north of Randy's folks' house. There were never any flowers on this grave. So Randy's mom, Marie, would always have an extra flower so Jill could decorate this little girl's grave, a girl who was born and died in 1946.

Though Jill won't be home for Memorial Day, I decorated it in her honor this year.

The little girl's name was Jewell, so I know her parents wanted and cherished her. I always figured that her parents had already passed away or had moved away and that's why no flowers ever marked her grave. I think it made all of us glad that we could, in some small way, help remember her short life.

Families are a lot more transient these days. Unlike my Dad who lives on the same land where he was born, families are spread across the country.

Many don't live where they can drive down after church and make the cemetery rounds.

Will Memorial Day change as the older generations pass on? Even we die-hard cemetery visitors often don't go to all the out-of-the-way cemeteries our grandparents visited. As our children and our children's children move further from home, will there be anyone but flower shops visiting cemeteries on Memorial Day weekend?

As we went to Stafford yesterday morning to meet Randy's sister Kathy and family, I asked Randy if he thought it would bother his grandparents that we no longer visit a cemetery north of Stafford. Randy doesn't remember those relatives, and Kathy's not sure she could even find the cemetery without a guide. Her girls have never even been there.

Emily, Kathy, Amanda, Randy & Dave - 2010

While his Grandma might raise her eyebrows about Randy's perch on the gravestone, I think she'd be happy he's visiting. And, when you think about it, he can probably blame some ancestor for the pain in his hips.

So I guess she'd be OK with it.

We even have purchased "real estate" nearby. We might as well make it as easy as we can on future generations.

Our real estate is somewhere around here at the Stafford Cemetery.

With life's fast pace and a world in which it seems we'd rather text than talk to our neighbor, will there still be flowers and flags and families dotting the cemeteries on a late May weekend in 30 years?

I hope so.


  1. I love cemeteries! My favorite is to go with Dad and have him tell me stories of the distant relatives or old neighbors who are buried there. I have pictures of one of my daughters in a back pack at about 8 months--and the scenery? An old cemetery where my mom was buried 10 years later. I still make the rounds, too--and so do my daughters!

  2. Kim, I love this article. It brought back many memories for me. Now that I am so far away I look back on them fondly. My cousin and I would also take flowers to a baby's grave in the Hudson cemetery. My grandmother, Hulda, would give us flowers to take to the grave that was way back in the back of the cemetery. Thanks for jogging my memory this Memorial Day weekend! Kim Brensing-van Swaay

  3. Kim, Quentin, Lindsey & I (and Gma too) drove out to Greensburg cemetery today. Q's mom ALWAYS went to 3-4 cemeteries & we quite often rode along. Today we stopped at the Macksville cemetery where Dorothy Brown Morford's grandfather--John W. Alford (an Dr. in Macksville in the late 1800's) is buried. As we were driving out...there was a familiar name...Neely! It was Shelby--your Grandpa of course. So when I saw your blog link on fb I had to check it out! So good! Shari

  4. Thanks to everyone for commenting. We made the "rounds" yesterday after church. Shari - It would have been fun to have our times at Macksville overlap. Kim, I love that it jogged memories for you of your grandma, and it was neat to know that another grandma had this ritual with her grandkids. Mrs. E, I also enjoy the stories at the cemeteries. I wish I had been more interested when I was younger. Happy Memorial Day to you all!