May 21, 2009

Preparing for Memorial Day weekend

When I was younger, I never gave a thought about taking care of family gravesites. I just knew that every Memorial Day, we would go to the parade in our home town and it always ended up at Oakwood Cemetery. Each of us kids took our turns marching as Brownies or Cub Scouts, carrying flowers to dutifully lay on the graves. There was always a military ceremony too, and we stood in silent awe as flags waved in the breeze and we listened to the lone bugle playing Taps. My parents would never miss it, so we didn't either.

The tradition continued with my own little family, though in another small town. We would find a place to park our lawn chairs somewhere around the historic Circle, and watch the annual parade. The kids loved catching candy the clowns threw out to the crowds. Sometimes we would follow the parade to the cemetery; other times we would end up at the pancake breakfast at the Middle School.

Fast-forwarding, my husband and I now both have our fathers buried at Oakwood. I have more than a dozen relatives on both sides also there. My parents and a couple aunts always took care of the family graves, but beginning this year, a change has begun. A couple weeks ago, several cousins went over and did the initial spring clean up, raking up the winter debris and pulling out old shrubs, etc. We've decided its time for the "younger" generation to take the job over, and hope to make this an annual event.

The other day, I went over with my mom and an aunt, and we dug miniature flower beds and planted annuals on 14 family graves. This one is my dad's brother, Anthony, who was only 21 when he died from diabetes back in 1942.

In the past, I'd never been able to find my great-grandfather's grave because it was covered with a huge overgrowth of hosta. I'm so glad I know where it is now, and that it is cleaned up. He and my great-grandmother immigrated from Sicily and their first child was my dear grandmother Josephine, who was born in 1900. They came over in 1906.

It was nice to have my Aunt Mary Ann along yesterday, because she knew where all the graves were located. I think I have them firmly placed in my mind now too. She also had some stories to tell. One of them was about her other brother, Jacob, who was only 15 when he died back in 1935. She thinks he had an abscessed tooth that got infected. Those were rough years for my grandparents, losing two of their eight children within seven years. It was the middle of the Great Depression, and I'm sure they just had no money for medical care. My grandpa, the sole breadwinner, contracted TB during those years also, and was isolated in a sanitarium for some time.

This is Jacob's headstone. Notice there are actually two of them. The one in the back was handmade of cement by my grandpa, and Aunt Mary Ann said he put it in a wagon and dragged it to the cemetery. What a sorrowful journey that must have been. The stone in the front was placed there sometime later. My aunt said the home made one always had an American flag on the pole. These Italian immigrants were poor, but were very proud to be naturalized Americans.

My father and his five surviving siblings all grew up and had families of their own. It would take some time for me to count all my cousins. As I've said before, we have a reunion every two years and consider ourselves a very close family, especially by today's standards.

It's hard to believe that of the six Sicilians (as we fondly refer to them, which seems odd since they were the 1st generation Americans of the family!) two have now passed on. My dad (84) and my Aunt Jo (90) both died in '08.

This Memorial Day seems very special because my dad's (and mom's) headstone was just installed at Oakwood this past week. This was a huge sacrificial gift from my mother to us. My dad would be so proud of it:

My dad loved lighthouses, and painted many of them. The one on his headstone is of Marblehead on Lake Erie, where he and mom liked to visit. My dad was a member of "The Greatest Generation" and proudly served his country in Europe during WWII.

Here I am with my mom as we see the headstone for the first time. It's really hard not having dad with us anymore, but going to the cemetery and lovingly caring for the family graves on a beautiful sunny day gave me a great sense of satisfaction and purpose. It also reminded me that the cemetery is really not the final resting place of our loved ones who have died in Christ Jesus. Christianity has taught from the beginning, and we believe, that the souls of our loved ones are safely with Him, and their bodies lie in the graves as they await their resurrection. What a glorious hope and peace this affords! Until that day, we will remember them and their lives, especially on Memorial Day.

1 comment:

Andy said...

Mom--awesome. Thank you.