When I was a child, Memorial Day was an occasion for honoring America's fallen soldiers and visiting graves of ancestors. Tin cans and canning jars were covered with tin foil, around which a bow was tied to create a vase to hold spring flowers from the garden or peonies ordered from the grocery store and kept in the bottom of the refrigerator to keep the buds from opening too early. Memorial morning men dressed in suits and ties, and women wore their Sunday dresses with hats and gloves to go to the cemetery to put flowers on the graves. It was important to arrive early enough to get the graves decorated with time to stroll through the cemetery admiring the decorations and visiting with friends and neighbors, especially those who now lived out of town and returned for the annual pilgrimage to decorate the graves. The picture is of my parents, aunts, and uncles in about 1949.
About 10 o'clock the high school band, playing patriotic songs, would march from the school to the cemetery, and a ceremony would be held at the Memorial for veterans, with two of the best young trumpeters slipping away to hide behind large gravestones or trees to echo the playing of Taps. Memorial Day was always May 30th, and no one considered going to the lake or the beach. It was a day to remember the dead, not a day for recreation. When the memorial service ended, the band marched away, only going as far as the end of the cemetery before students raced to their parents' cars to shed the hot, wool band uniforms. The crowd gradually disbursed, many gathering for large family dinners. Afterward, when the women retired to the kitchen to wash dishes and gossip and the men found comfortable chairs in the living room where they could intermittently visit and nap, the kids would slip away to meet their friends at the swimming pool, which opened for the summer season that afternoon. I am the girl with the tenor saxophone, marching in one of those hot wool band uniforms.
Those days have disappeared. With Memorial Day turned into a holiday weekend, graves are still decorated at the Farmington Cemetery, but the flowers are primarily silk and the decorating is often done early so people can travel somewhere for the long weekend. Jeans are typically worn for the practical business of anchoring the silk flower arrangements in the soil to stay in place through the weekend in the likely chance of strong spring winds. There is still a VFW honor guard that marches on Memorial Day, but the music is provided by a CD player rather than the high school band. People do linger for a while to visit after the memorial services, but the crowd dwindles each year, it seems. There are still some families that have traditional dinners, and kids whose parents have not taken them to the lake still gather at the swimming pool, if it is the opening day of the summer. My husband is one of the men in the VFW honor guard at the "new" Veterans' Memorial.
I used to tease my mother-in-law not so many years ago when she would ask us to drive her through the cemetery, where she would comment as we passed by the graves, speaking of those buried there as if she were pointing out residences along the streets of the town. Now she occupies one of those cemetery lots we once drove past, and my husband and I find ourselves driving through the cemetery, speaking of friends and parents of friends buried there, just as she once did. Since doing the research about Isaac's neighbors from the late 1800s, I now have several more graves whose occupants I almost feel that I know, and I give Isaac's old neighbors a nod as we drive by. This is the "old" Veterans' Memorial to which our high school band once led the honor guard.