Saturday, August 11, 2007

Cemeteries

[memories evoked by the Sunday Scribblings prompt, "Goosebumps"]

Do you ever get an unexpected shiver, apparently for no reason? When that happened to me, I remember my grandma telling me "someone must be walking on your grave." I always thought that was creepy. Do graveyards give you goosebumps? I can't say that they do for me, although I know some folks have more trouble with the idea of being around them.

When I was a girl scout, we would do overnight camping at the local girl scout property on the lake. It was next to a cemetery, so inevitably we would sing spooky songs. It was on a girl scout camping trip that I first did rubbings of the art on the old gravestones. I had never done that before and really liked that method of remembering artwork. The charcoal rubbings always came out with so much more detail than the snapshots from our little cheap cameras.


I remember helping my grandma and great aunt get ready for Decoration Day. That was what they used to call Memorial Day. Most years, I was out of school for the summer already, and for days ahead, we'd gather together glass and metal vases. Then we'd sort out and make arrangements of artificial flowers. Then we'd plan which flowers would need to be picked on the morning we would go to the grave sites. Some folks got whatever was in bloom, some got roses. When the bouquets were ready, we'd put them in boxes in the trunk or back seat of the car and head out to the cemeteries. I remember visiting 3 of them.


The closest cemetery was at the edge of town. It was quite large, and backed up to the country club on one side. It was well-manicured and had winding roads through it. Most of the headstones were quite modern.


The next cemetery we visited had a lot of family in it. It was out past the small town where my grandma had been born, kind of stuck in between the fields. You went through the little-bitty town, turn left at the next corner, down and up and right at the next road, then a left turn going sharply uphill into the cemetery. It had a lot of older stones, though nothing was elaborate. The folks buried there were, for the most part, farmers and their families, and there wasn't a lot of extra money to spend on fancy headstones.


I don't remember exactly where the 3rd cemetery was, it is possible I fell asleep on the way. I do remember it was not as well cared-for. It was on a little hilltop in the middle of more fields and there was a little walking uphill to get to the graves we visited.


I do remember that my great aunt took special care to put the fresh-cut roses on the grave of her sister (my great-aunt Lucy who died just after I was born). She told me that Lucy hated artificial flowers. When Lucy was dying she said she'd come back as a ghost and sit on the bed of the anyone who put artificial flowers on her grave. My living relatives didn't want to tempt fate (or Lucy, I guess).


The American Legion in my hometown did something that had a great impact on Memorial Day (and Independence Day). When a military person dies, a flag is draped on their casket. The flag is folded and given to the family. Some families put these flags in cases for display, but many of them are tucked away and never taken out. The American Legion in my town offered to care for these flags in return for getting to use them. Each military flag was mounted on a wooden pole and the name, rank, and war of the deceased went on a metal plate affixed to that pole.

The American Legion put out the flags for special events and then would gather them up and make sure they were cleaned and properly cared for. The result of this is that the main streets, and the roads leading to and through the town cemetery are lined for Memorial Day with these flags. I remember walking along and looking at the name plates on the flags. Being a small town, if someone in the family didn't know the person whose name was on the flag, odds were that we knew a relative of that person. To see all those flags, each representing a real person from my small town over generations, was definitely enough to give me goosebumps.

16 comments:

Rob Kistner said...

Very meaningful, and a cause for reflection on our human spirit and human condition -- and our interconnectedness... not always immediately obvious or appreciated.

Well written.

Maria said...

We did the same thing when I was a kid on Memorial Day.

I admit to not starting the tradition with Liv. I just...don't really believe in cemeteries. I mean, all that money spent on embalming and pricey caskets..

I have it in my will that I do not anything like that. Just a cremation and a burial under the rose bushes of my house...

Paul said...

Interesting post.

sister AE said...

Thanks, Rob.

Hi, Maria. Doing the simple things when someone dies these days is harder than ever. My dad wanted as close to a "plain pine box" as we could get and we certainly tried.

Thanks, Paul.

raymond pert said...

Your town's tradition of displaying these flags is the most meaningful way I've ever heard of honoring those killed in war. I loved reading about how you experienced what these Legionnaires did for your town and its veterans who never returned home.

sister AE said...

Thank you, Raymond. I should say, though, that the not all of the flags were from those killed in the line of duty. Some of the veterans did come home.

Shephard said...

Found your blog from Michele's. :)

Decoration Day. I've never heard that and think it must be a wonderful thing for a family to remember. I have no memories of my parents or siblings doing this.

Now that I live in the Los Angeles area, we visit the amazing Forest Lawn cemeteries which were founded with the intention of having people visit places filled with beauty and art. They're lovely places. Not creepy at all.

~S :)

sister AE said...

Welcome, Shepard.
There's a really nice "to-visit" cemetery in the Boston Area. You can read about it here, if you are interested.
http://www.mountauburn.org/

It is a National Historic Landmark and is beautifully landscaped as well has having some famous people buried there. It even has architecture in the form of chapels and a tower, as well as a lot of sculpture work.

gautami tripathy said...

Very informative post. Interesting too.

Enjoyed reading it.

sister AE said...

Hi, Gautami. Thanks.

gautami tripathy said...

Glad I got here here from Michele to read this again. I love visiting cemeteries. They are so peaceful and tranquil. I have never been scared or had that goose bumpy feeling.

sister AE said...

Hi, Gautami! Nice to see you again. Stop by tomorrow for a new/old poem - I'll link it from Poetry Thursday, too.

-E said...

I love the flag tradition, I think it's beautiful. What a great way to foster a sense of respect into the community too!

I wandered here from Michele's.

sister AE said...

Thanks, -E. You're welcome here anytime.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

As you can see, I'm enjoying reading around your blog. Your town had a nice tradition. My dad was killed in a traffic accident when my twin daughters were four years old. He was buried in National Cemetery on Memorial Day weekend, when the scouts put out thousands of flags, one on each grave. With the waving flags and all the flowers at the cemetery, my girls called the place Flowerland.

Here's what I wrote, if you want to read it and see the photo of the cemetery:
http://continuingthequest.blogspot.com/2007/04/taking-stand.html

This past Tuesday I wrote something that may seem creepier to you, MY death day and how I feel about death, which you'll find here:
http://wordsfromawordsmith.blogspot.com/2007/08/discussion-about-death.html

sister AE said...

Bonnie - Thanks, I'll take a look at those posts.