Friday, May 23, 2014

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 has stops at cemeteries in Stafford and Pratt Counties, including Pratt's Greenlawn Cemetery, the Iuka Cemetery, Pleasant Plains Cemetery, Prattsburg Cemetery and  Macksville. On Sunday, we'll experience the 2014 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 would always have an extra flower so Jill could decorate this little one's grave, a girl who was born and died in 1946.
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?
We usually meet Kathy's family on the cemetery hill just west of Stafford during the Memorial Day weekend to decorate the graves of his Mom & Dad and Grandma & Grandpa. 
We even have purchased "real estate" nearby.
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.
Note:  This is rewritten from a 2010 post on Kim's County Line. Happy Memorial Day to all!


  1. Jill, I have these same memories going to Pratt's Greenlawn Cemetery, Stafford Cemetery and Prairie Chapel Cemetery south of Stafford. When I was little everyone dressed up to go to the cemetery on Memorial Day for the service.
    The men wore suits and ties and the women wore high heels. We saw people there we didn't see any other time of year. It was a big occasion. I miss being there, Memorial Day just isn't the same. Mary Jane Hawver McEntire

  2. Mary Jane - Two of our stops are the same ones - Greenlawn and Stafford. Randy says he's not familiar with Prairie Chapel Cemetery. It's been our tradition to go after church services on Sunday with my family, so we always were wearing our Sunday clothes (though that's less "fancy" nowadays)! There is a reunion feel to the visit, as we see others there. Happy Memorial Day and thanks for taking time to make a comment!

  3. Prairie Chapel Cemetery is 4 miles South and 3 1/2 miles west of Stafford on the North side of the road. Mary Jane

  4. The little Church is long gone, all that's left is the cemetery. Mary Jane

    1. I printed off the directions. We'll have to explore.