Thursday, May 28, 2009

Decoration Day

That's what I grew up hearing - "Decoration Day". I asked Daddy what Memorial Day was and he explained it was what people called Decoration Day.

Decoration Day was the day the cemeteries should all be mowed, trimmed, old flowers cleaned off of the graves and replaced with new ones.

It is - Springtime in the cemetery. Time for renewal (which might sound silly to some) and a general "spruce up" of the burial grounds.

I know, it started out as a day to decorate the graves of Confederate veterans - and now as "Memorial Day" it is considered a day to honor all veterans. But I'm a bit Southern; and as a Southern woman, I reserve the right to fuss over cemeteries.

Some may ask why anyone would bother with cemetery maintenance.

We humans have an innate need to connect to our past - to know where we came from. Perhaps to give us a more grounded feel for where we are going.

Some may think me morbid, but others, I know, will understand what I am saying.

Many years ago, in the early 1980's, I went for a walk every evening. My first husband and I lived in Memphis, TN and I followed a street back to a long-deserted cul de sac and followed the broken sidewalk around the loop back home. I began to smell gas on my walk so I called the appropriate city office to report it. The next day the road was closed - a major gas leak was found and during the excavation an old cemetery was also re-discovered.

It makes you stop and think. Did the people there have no descendants? How, exactly, is one "lost" to time?

I know, people move and don't bother (or maybe they are/were unable) to write back to loved ones and tell of their whereabouts. Many things happen in this world that separate loved ones. I've been known to drop off of the face of the Earth myself.

The cemetery at our church has 2 "mystery" graves - one headstone simply says "Little Girl", the other says "The Stranger"...

They were both unknown to us until last year when a lady in the community died and her husband ordered a double headstone for them, and smaller ones for Little Girl and Stranger.

It seems that back in the 1880's a wagon train was moving through this area and the people were sick - one little girl died and she was buried in our church cemetery. Her name has been lost to time and once in a while I search out and read historical notes - hoping to perhaps read an account from this wagon train and maybe find out a name for this little girl. I know that her momma and daddy undoubtedly mourned her passing - for as long as they lived. In their honor, and in honor of the sacrifices these early pioneers made to explore and open this great country we live in, we keep her grave neat and this year we planted some daffodils on her grave.

The Stranger has a different story. In the 1920's, here in Dallas County, MO, there were several "squatters' shacks" in the area. Stranger was found dead in one of these shacks - searches of the man and his shack turned up absolutely nothing in the way of identification. He was wrapped in a sheet and laid to rest next to Little Girl. This spring, we also planted daffodils on his grave.

I'm positive that somewhere Stranger also had family - maybe he was a husband and father who came to this area to make enough money to send for his family. Perhaps he was a brother of a family who came here looking for a way to help his parents and siblings.

We will probably never know. But they were living, breathing people whoever they were. Lost souls? Maybe. But they are being remembered. Their final resting places are now marked and we can only hope future generations will do the same.

I know I do my best to make sure others are aware of the stories, such as they are, will be handed down.