Monday, May 29, 2006

Decoration Day

One of the things I really like about Miz Bubs' family is their tradition of going out every Memorial Day weekend to decorate family graves. I've been privileged to go along on a couple of these trips, which begin with everyone meeting at the picnic shelter in Elkhart, Iowa (population 362, according to the 2000 census.) There's lunch, and some catching up, and then a loose convoy drives around to 4 or 5 rural cemeteries, some more accessible than others. I try and keep all the relations straight, but I can't, so I just sit back and nod politely like a recent immigrant and try to be a good listener. I was sad to miss it this year.

There's something so sweet to me about all these generations, living and dead, connected through the shared task of maintaining and decorating rural graves. There are the graves of family members, and then there are the other graves you see: the veterans' graves, marked with flags, the small markers of children, entire families buried in a short time due to fever or milk sickness. It reminds me that all of us are where we are thanks to the work and sacrifice (or in some cases, the monumental failures) of those who've gone before us.

Miz Bubs' sister recently wrote about her trips to the cemeteries as a young girl and wondering what the people buried there had been like. She makes a good point that grave markers should contain mini-biographies so that strangers visiting years later can have a better sense of the dead. I like that. I've officially stolen that idea and have put my children to work on coming up with a good epitaph that will capture who I was, once I'm dead.

While we were in Key West we visited the cemetery. I don't know exactly why this is, but I've always loved graveyards, and my bride and kids are the same way. The Key West cemetery seemed more cheerful, somehow, than any other graveyard. So many of the graves, even the old ones, had fresh flowers and were clearly being taken care of by someone who cared. Some of the family plots had markers for favorite pets that were buried next to their humans. There were feral chickens roaming around, and the random crowing of roosters in the afternoon sun added a jaunty note. Some of the headstones are famous for their epitaphs: "I told you I was sick" or "devoted fan of Julio Iglesias." Many of the headstones bore photographs of the person buried, which is something I've only seen before on some Gypsy and eastern European graves. It seemed much more popular in Key West, which I liked. It's neat to think of someone walking by your grave and thinking, "what a good-looking guy he was" or "wow, she looked like fun."

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think we've almost settled on "A kind, caring and generous man who made stuff up" as you epitaph. I do think thouigh that we need to do like that one family in Key West and build you a happy little shrine. I think that would be fitting.

Dub Martin said...

Hank Williams' lyrics

"Lonely Tombs"

I was strolling one day, in a lonely graveyard,
When a voice from the tomb, seemed to say,
I once lived as you live, walked and talked as you talk,
But from earth I was soon called away.

Chorus

Oh, those tombs, (oh those tombs),
Lonely tombs, (lonely tombs ),
Seemed to say in a low gentle tone,
Oh how sweet, (oh how sweet),
Is the rest, (is the rest),
In our beautiful, heavenly home.

Every voice from the tomb, seemed to whisper and say,
Living man you must soon follow me,
And I thought as I gazed, on that cold marble slab,
What a sad lonesome place that must be.

Repeat chorus

I then came to the place, where my mother did lay,
And her voice, soft and low, from the tomb,
It said, son I'm at rest, with the savior above,
I am safe in my heavenly home.

Repeat chorus

Dub Martin said...

I love The Stanley Brothers' version of that song.

Bubs said...

I didn't know that was a Hank Williams song. I think I've only ever heard the Stanley Brothers version of it.