When I was little we always went to the cemetery on Memorial Day. There were a lot of deaths in our family, at least on my mother's side of the family. We'd take freshly cut flowers, and sometimes we planted flowers too. There were two cemeteries in Pauls Valley: Mt. Olivet, on a hill a little ways out of town, and the "Old Cemetery," in town right next to Rush Creek. It took a while to make the rounds. We went out there a lot of other times during the year too.
I think people used to value cemeteries more back then. It makes sense. Cemeteries hold the actual remains of our loved ones and ancestors. I've been back to Mt. Olivet and to the Old Cemetery a few times, and it makes me feel closer to my aunts, uncles, and grandparents as I stand out there next to the Paul plot. The Chickasaws felt strongly about the remains of their loved ones too, back in the old country. They used to bury a person right under his or her doorstep. That's the reason they hated so much to leave their homeland in Mississippi and migrate to present day Oklahoma. They were abandoning the bones of their ancestors.
My grandmother felt that way too. My mother told me that when her oldest daughter died, Grandmother went to the cemetery so much that my grandfather almost built a house for her across the street. Grandmother outlived five of her children, and I think it helped her deal with her grief to visit and to care for their graves. Makes sense to me.
I have a picture somewhere of Grandmother standing next to my Uncle Willie's grave. He had an especially tragic death. The plants around his grave come up above her waist. She even tore out the fence around her front yard to put around the Paul plot at the Old Cemetery to protect her oldest son's grave. "Little Samuel," as he was always known, died in 1899 before his first birthday. He was buried out there alongside the old settlers. I couldn't find the picture of Grandmother standing next to Willie's grave, but here she is alongside Uncle Haskell at the ceremony beginning the renovation of the Old Cemetery, which she spearheaded:
Going to the cemetery was no comfort to my mother though. After Grandmother was gone she went out to there for a few more years and then stopped. It just brought back bad memories for her. She had herself cremated, my father too - he would have gone along with anything she wanted. I'm a little ambivalent about it though. I think I'd kind of like to have a grave to visit. I tried to visit my parents "graves" on Memorial Day several years ago at the columbarium - I think that's what you call it, and it was all locked up. You can't get in without a key. You can't plant a garden in there either.
Things are different in Pauls Valley too. They've pulled up my grandmother's garden. They even replaced her oldest daughter's tombstone with a flat one so they could mow over it with the lawn mower. My grandparents had that stone imported from Italy.
Of course times are different now. Just because you don't go to someone's grave doesn't mean you didn't care about them. I spent Memorial Day this year hiking and listening to the tape of a phone conversation I had with my mother years ago. It's enough I suppose.
There is something to preserving and honoring the remains of your loved ones. though. We used to get together as a family on Memorial Day. Now people just go shopping. I think it's important to the family, and important to society. You have to be moved when you see Arlington National Cemetery, the Vietnam Memorial, or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The military understands that. That's why they try so hard to return the bodies of servicemen to their families.
I did have a nice experience that Memorial Day when I tried unsuccessfully to get into the columbarium where my parents' ashes are located. My wife and I also drove out to the cemetery where her mother is buried. My wife is a woman of color, and the cemetery is in a predominantly black neighborhood. Anyway, it was packed with people, families together, some having picnics at the gravesites, little kids playing, people laughing and talking, reminiscing. It made me feel good, and I think it would have made Grandmother feel good too.