Remembering Decoration Day - May 31

Memorial Day became an official Federal holiday in 1971. As a child Memorial Day was called Decoration Day and was celebrated on May 31 no matter what day of the week.  It was holiday to remember not only those who died in the military, but also those who died in your family. It was a family holiday.  My grandmother closed her business ( a rare occasion).  My dad had the day off.   My family would squeeze into my grandmother's 1952 Plymouth four-door sedan and head up to the North side of Chicago.  It seemed like a long journey in the days before expressways. We would meet my aunt and her clan at the family burial plot.

As we walked up the incline to the site, we were warned not to step on any one's grave. We needed to be respectful. In those days, a grave was very distinct. The black mounds were graves. The grassy area was a free zone for  foot traffic.

This venture in the Spring was a time to commune with my ancestors. We always started the work with a prayer. There was a short history lesson on who was buried in the family plot. The plot consisted of ten sites. There also  was a reconnoitering about who will be buried there.

There was a job  for everyone. My dad trimmed the lower branches of the two tall pines so the large family marker was in clear view.  The older children helped clear the leaves and winter debris from the graves. While my mom would rake the grass around the plot. My aunt and my grandmother would discuss the planting of the flowers on the graves.  

This was a happy event. The younger children played quietly. The family still was small. It was before life got hectic. We would have a picnic after the work was done. The adults would sit and admire the completed project. This was a celebration of those who left us and those of us who still had much living to do.

Today, this same cemetery does not allow flowers planted on the graves. The family plot is covered with grass. There aren't any black mounds. It would be difficult to find the family plot if it weren't for the two pines that my dad groomed every year. They are tall lodge pole pines that guard the plot like two giants.

The elders of my generation are passing. My generation is scattered. The family plot like many of my childhood memories is kept by a very few.


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