Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Did you Decorate?

Memorial Day at the cabin--a few years ago.

Today is Memorial Day and I am thinking about our service people and old friends and family who are no longer with us.  I am also thinking about some of my past Memorial Days. 

I really don't have too many memories from my childhood days in Milwaukee except that Dad would drive the whole family to a big cemetery, I think it was called Forest Home, and we drove around in it and would stop at Aunt Bess and Uncle Sam's graves.  We probably had flowers to put on the graves but I don't remember that part.

More recently, after we were married and had kids I remember that there was school on Memorial Day.  On the ranch, we always had a lot of fisherman camping.  They could not believe we didn't have that Monday off.  It was always a big rush to get going to school and someone was always beeping the car horn to get the stragglers moving.  It also got the fishermen moving and complaining good-naturedly about all the racket.

  I think the VFW always had a parade in town where they would march in their uniforms up to the old cemetery and raise the flag.  I suppose there were some speeches but I don't remember.  The high school band sometimes marched with them and played.

I also remember having picnics at the cabin and trying to go up to Aqua Fria on 4 wheelers.  We usually couldn't make it very far up before we came to huge snow banks but the picnics were fun and we did do some fishing on the streams back then too.

One Memorial Day weekend Bob and I went to Denver and bought a conversion van.  It was our first one and it was interesting.  The seats were benches along each side that made into a bed.  It made some of the kids sick to ride that way.  Anyway, we decided to surprise JJ and Ozzie and kids by dropping by their campsite and staying with them for the weekend.  They were camping somewhere up in Wyoming behind Fox Park.  Keep in mind, this was before cell phones so it was going to be a total surprise.

  We only had a vague idea where they had planned to stay, like somewhere on the North Platte river.  We started down the National Forest road on a cold and rainy Saturday (typical Memorial weekend weather) hoping we were on the right road.  After 2 or 3 miles the van started acting funny and finally, out in the middle of nowhere, it died and there we were.  We really had seen no cars on this road but were hopeful someone would come along.  Remember, no cell phones!  Finally I decided I would have to walk back towards Fox Park.  Just as I was getting out of the van we saw a 4 wheeler coming up the road.  It was JJ and Ozzie and the 2 kids!  Wow, that was so lucky.  We ended up ruining their holiday by having to drive their pickup down to Laramie (where they lived at the time) and getting someone to tow the brand new van down to a repair shop.  Oh well, it was a nasty weekend anyway.  We turned that van back in to the dealer shortly after, it was such a lemon!

One of my strongest ( but bittersweet) memories of Memorial Day occurred up on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation on the border of Nevada and Idaho.  Memorial  Day on the reservation is a really big deal.  There are several main families on the Rez and they each have their own cemetery.  On Memorial Day the whole family including elders down to the babies gather at the family cemetery with flowers.  The family walks through, stopping at each grave to decorate it and for one of the elders to give an oral history of the person buried there.  A wonderful tradition I wish my family had.

The last Memorial weekend I spent up there on Saturday I went to Boise with a teacher friend who belonged to one of the prominent families on the reservation.  We bought lots of flowers and decorations for Monday.  Teola invited me to come decorate with the Mannings on that Monday and I was very excited to hear their history.  Monday rolled around and when I woke up I couldn't open my eyes!  My annual eye infection had hit!  Not to worry, I could run up to the hospital and get some magic eye drops which worked wonders on my eyes and still have time to go with the Mannings.

I got up to the hospital and there was only one young Dr. on duty and one of my student's mother, who was cleaning.  The Dr. decided he needed advice from a Dr. in Boise before prescribing anything,
so I waited and waited and waited for his reply.  While I sat there waiting the mother came over and sat with me for awhile.  She asked me "Did you decorate this morning?" I kind of looked at her and thought, my room? The house? Huh?  Finally it occurred to me she meant the graves.  I always get a kick out of people who get to know you so well that they think you actually are part of their culture.  I told her my ancestors were back East and sadly I was missing decorating with the Mannings.  Hours later I got my eye medicine but I'd missed the history lesson.  I still regret not being able to go with them.

What are we doing today?  It is one of those rare Memorial Days that is clear, warm, and not too windy.  I think I will go fishing this afternoon and probably watch some TCM war movies.....

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