Thursday, May 10, 2012

Memorial Day at Farmington Cemetery

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.





11 comments:

Promote Lindsborg said...

I remember when I was a child that Decoration Day, as we called it, was a major occasion. First we would pick a couple of dishpans of roses, then load them into our car, along with rakes, shovels and a hoe. We always went to the Hopewell Cemetery first, and because the graves weren't maintained at that time, we needed to tidy up around the graves before placing the roses on them. The next stop was Prattsburg Cemetery, which was usually even more overgrown. We finished at Haviland Cemetery. It was here that we met up with several of our relatives who were also decorating graves. As we decorated each grave, my parents would discuss the history of that person, and it was in this way that I grew to appreciate my own genealogy. All of us would culminate our trip in Haviland with a large dinner that my aunt Mattie's home there. Years later, it was just myself and my wife making the trip. We are the last.

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

Yes, I believe my parents did call it Decoration Day. Nearly all my ancestors for three generations are buried at Farmington Cemetery, so we did not do the pilgrimage you describe, but learning the family history was part of my experience as well. Thank you for the great comment!

The Blog Fodder said...

Makes one lonesome for times past and those gone on. Thanks for a wonderful post.

Nancy said...

Lest we forget!

I remember reading letters about Decoration Day, and Mother would get very sentimental about being so far away. It was not celebrated that way in S. Texas. What a great history lesson you kids got!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your memories. I, too, wore a band uniform for several Decoration Day services at Floral Hill Cemetery. I still cover coffee containers to fill with peonies and iris.

Anne said...

I remember "decoration day" and the preparation for it. We always hoped the peonies would be blooming so we could use them at the grave sites. A second look at the picture--which I'm sure I have also, I realized that everyone in it is gone now. How privileged we were to grow up with family traditions.

Misty said...

Two weeks ago, Lyn asked me to write a story from years of Memorial Days of my early childhood. I am just getting around to it, but here goes. My grandparents (Arthur and Wilma -- in the photo fourth man from left, fourth woman from left) were adamant that when I was a child in the late 70s and early 80s, that I learn about the meaning of Memorial Day, but more importantly, my grandad insisted that I know where all of the family graves were located. I remember every year as a child loading up the boxes of flowers (in their later years they had appreciated the ease of reusable plastic flowers)and heading the to cemeteries. Our route included Farmington at Macksville, Byers and Iuka. I would sit in the back of the pickup or if we were in the car on the trunk (safety wasn't a concern then) and my granddad would drive in the cemetery and when I found a family grave I had to knock on the back glass. He would stop and then I had to show him where the grave was and tell him who was buried there. This probably started when I was 3 years old. My granddad died when I was 8, but I have very vivid memories of our trips to the cemeteries and how important it was to him that I know where those graves were/are located. While locations were important to my granddad, my grandmother found other things important. Every year as we finished at the last cemetery (Iuka) she would remind me that we had one more set of flowers to put out. See, my dad was adopted by my grandparents because his biological mother died when he was born and his biological father couldn't take care of him. Our last stop every year was my dad's biological mother's grave. It was so very important to my grandmother and she always said we needed to thank his birth mother because she gave my dad to my grandparents and if she hadn't, they wouldn't have me. Of course, that was my grandmother's way of making it important to me. I could probably still find all of the graves, but have to admit my Memorial Weekend pilgrimmage is much shorter. I just visit one cemetery and decorate our family graves there, but I am thankful that my grandparents took the time and energy to educate me on these great family traditions. And, as I leave the Iuka cemetery every year, I put a small bunch of flowers on my dad's biological mom's grave....just like Gram always insisted.

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

Thank you for sharing this wonderful story, Misty!

LK said...

Enjoyed reading your writing about Decoration Day/ Memorial Day at Farmington Cemetery in Macksville. My sister & I grew up in Macksville, daughters of Virgil & Virginia Goudy. I remember the transition from the high school band marching into the cemetery in uniform to the music recorded onto a cassette. Trying to pick out what Dad thought was a suitable selection of patriotic tunes from the record albums we had at home turned in to years & years of those same songs echoing through the cemetery each Memorial Day. It wasn't the same as having the band, though. I remember giving the American Legion paper poppies to people on Macksville's main street to help raise funds, the annual tradition of putting flags on veterans' graves at sunrise & then picking them up before sunset on Decoration Day. For years, Dad placed a little bouquet at the memorial stone during the ceremony with these words . . . "These flowers my wither and die . . . " Unfortunately, I do not remember the rest - the message conveys that although the flowers will die, the memory of those who died will last until the end of time.
I'm guessing your mother-in-law was Irene Fenwick Preston - a wonderful lady!
My husband & I visited the cemetery at Macksville & Belpre today. Both looked nice - ready for Memorial Day, but I miss the peony plants that flanked many stones and the trees that had to be removed due to storm damage in previous years.

LK said...

Enjoyed reading your post about the cemetery in Macksville! My sister & I grew up in Macksville, daughters of Virgil & Virginia Goudy. Your mother-in-law was Irene Fenwick Preston? What a lovely lady! She & my folks knew each other for years! Like you, I have tons of Decoration Day/Memorial Day memories mostly all centered around Farmington cemetery. Early memories include passing out American Legion poppies on Main Street in the '60s, getting up to help put out the veterans' flags at the cemetery at sunrise & then picking them up at sunset, the band marching into the cemetery (thinking that someday I would be old enough to do that), helping Dad pick out some patriotic music from albums at home to record on a cassette when the band no longer marched, helping put out the peonies on grandparents' graves, watching & listening to the Memorial Day ceremony & trying to remember what it was that Dad said when he put the little bouquet of roses on the large Veterans' memorial (both the old one & then the newer one). It started out with "These flowers may wither and die but ..." I can't remember the rest but the gist was that those who come after will remember the sacrifices of those in the past. Now, we're the ones putting flowers in memory of parents & grandparents . . .silk flowers have taken the place of home-grown peonies now that we live elsewhere. We did make the trip to Macksville & Belpre today, leaving flowers at the graves of our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and some family friends continuing the tradition started decades ago. The cemetery looked nice - ready for Monday's service although I miss the trees removed due to storm damage and the dozens of peony plants that used to grace the cemetery. I imagine those were planted to provide flowers to decorate the graves of those whose families were no longer in the area. Know it's easier maintenance without them - but it sure doesn't look as nice!
We'll head that way again in the morning, trying to arrive in time for the Farmington Cemetery memorial service.

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

I do remember your parents--in fact, your father might have been a classmate of my mother. If you were at the cemetery this morning, you saw my husband battling the wind to keep the American flag flying as part of the VFW honor guard. We did not put our flowers out until early this morning and may pick them up soon in case the stormy weather that is predicted arrives. I enjoyed your comment! Lyn