Memorial Day is made for memories. As the first white piney rose (peony) bursts forth in a flurry of fragrant petals, I am reminded of many Decoration Days (as we once called it) that have passed. I am again a child, picking the piney roses and the soft, deep pink rose that Grandma O’Dell called her “graveyard rose.” Placed in a glass Mason jar, we would climb the hill to the family cemetery behind the church.
There we would carefully place the jars of flowers on Grandma and Grandpa’s graves. Grandma was a faint memory, but Grandpa was a more recent grief. We were young, and death was not really close to us. Then we would make the trip to Mom’s family cemetery which was high on a ridge overlooking Big Laurel Creek.
The walk down through the woods was always pleasant. It was just a path, but is was moss-covered and bordered by tall trees and thick underbrush. We would pick daisies and wild pink roses that bloomed along the way to add to our floral offerings to decorate the graves of our kinfolk. It was a happy day for us kids, as we were joined by numerous cousins and aunts and uncles.
Like a lot of country folks, it was a combined family reunion and picnic, as we gathered to clean off the graves and decorate them with flowers. We were not really touched by the finger of death at that time, as we viewed the graves of a grandfather barely remembered, and a grandmother we never knew. There were some tiny baby graves of cousins who had died in infancy. We felt a pang of sorrow at the wee ones who never had a chance to grow up, but mostly we just enjoyed the day with our cousins.
As we grew older, the reality of death settled down upon us. It was on Memorial Day, 1953, that the first real sorrow struck my heart. We had placed flowers on our kinfolk’s graves, and then gone on down on Big Laurel Creek to fish and picnic. I remember it was a lovely May day, with waxy-white water honeysuckles blooming on the creek’s edge. Their haunting fragrance even now brings back that day. When we got home, a telegram had arrived with the news that a much-loved 18 year-old boy was killed in action on that day. He will be forever 18, while I grow old and gray.
It seems that Memorial Day has figured in a lot of our sorrows. Daddy attended an all-day service in Morgantown and rejoiced in the preaching and singing. The very next day he was admitted for tests that indicated imminent surgery. One week later he suffered a massive stroke during carotid artery surgery. He lived for three more years, but the old Daddy was gone.
Another Memorial Day, May 30, 1998. My beloved brother Mark had passed away just two weeks before. He was only 56, but cancer had ravaged his body and death was a release. He had always lived close to me, and his passing was almost more than I could bear. It seems I can hear him yet opening the kitchen door and saying, “Hey Sis, got any coffee?” One of his favorite verses of scripture was, “They who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up on wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isa. 40-31) What a consolation it is that Mark is no longer weary or sick.
I had a favorite first cousin who was just a little older than I, whom I dearly loved. She was Aunt May’s only daughter, and spent her summers here with Grandma O’Dell. We had a glorious time, building playhouses, picking wildflowers, and playing all summer long. Her name was Mary Leta, but we called her Mary-Bug. She married young, and her husband was in a branch of the government.
She traveled with him all over the world; lived in England, Peru and several other places. We kept in touch—she was in DC for a long time and eventually settled in Oregon near her younger daughter. She developed lymphoma, and battled it for several years before her death in 2005. She had written a sonnet that she left for her loved ones.
An urge to wander moves within my soul
And roads away from Here seemstraight and wide,
The whole road ‘round becomes the urgent goal
But roads to There lie only in my mind.
Last night I walked beside a turquoise sea
And by the rushing waters of a
In search of spring’s first shy anemone
To wake and find it all a lovely dream.
I’ve seen when restless fever overtakes,
When dreams escape me and my heart grows sick,
There is a garden planted for my sake—
With lush and fragrant flowers there to pick.
Strong-rooted blossoms growing deep within
This vagrant tumbler tossed before the wind.
By Mary Leta Bush
As we grow older, many of our friends and contemporaries are already gone. As Mom told me one time, we are the next generation. It’s hard to imagine life going on without us, but it will. If we thought that this life on earth is all there is, how miserable we would be. We have a blessed promise in 1Peter, verses 3-4, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you.”
Why should I fear death? If I remain faithful until the end, I will receive my inheritance. The best is yet to be.
DO NOT STAND AT MY GRAVE AND WEEP
By Mary Frey
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there, I do not sleep
I am in a thousand winds that blow
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain;
I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush;
I am in the graceful rush
Of beautiful birds in circling flight
I am the starshine of the night.
I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room.
I am the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I do not die.
Memorial Day is for remembering . . .