I live on a farm where I can trace my family back six generations and on a farm just a few miles away, I can go back eight. I don’t visit the past that often, but when I do, I marvel at the drama that still floats like mist through the current day.
Last weekend, was Memorial Day and after the days of food and games settled down, my mother and I decided to take the cemetery tour. We have relatives in three burial grounds spread over 15 miles and two of them with veterans. Like Our Town, the stones tell a story with the 100 year-old pines that flank the grounds whispering the chorus.
My grandfather was a foot soldier in World War I, a detour on the way to the Great Depression and so many feel his trials in Europe led to his premature death at 53 and my grandmother’s subsequent premature widowhood.
We’ll never really know why he went so early and this is one of those places in family history where facts start to merge with imagination. I never met him, but as a child I followed my grandmother to his graveside countless times. I was always struck by her loyalty to him, even after his death.
She lies in the ground next to him now, but her spirit still whirls through my home. My daughter spent part of the holiday repurposing old broken bits of her jewelry into magnificently modern creations. My 4 year-old granddaughter and I picked rhubarb from the garden to make several batches of “Grandma Rose’s Rhubarb Bars.” It wouldn’t be spring with out it.
We moved on to the Bohemian cemetery, which is a tiny plot of earth with a small group of stones, most dating back to the 19th century - old for Minnesota. A neighboring farmer tends this ground and it was comforting to see it freshly mowed. This spring, that was an act of dedication. Probably for the holiday and who knows, my mother and I may have been its only visitors. She reminded me of the time that we carried the push mower in her trunk for over 100 miles to mow around these family graves. A single mother in the 60’s was no easy scenario, but that didn’t stop her tenacity or desire to honor her ancestors. I smiled not being able to recall the day myself, but certain it had worked its way into my molecular structure.
The veteran here was Vernon and he died in WW II. He was a sniper and buried at sea in the South Pacific. Time is the ocean between his day and mine. His mother was crippled, but their farm was spectacular and now that we own a piece of that property, I am the one who haunts those ruins and rests on the stones that used to be his barn.
Wars, economies, draughts, disease and even sexism takes its toll on families. But today this line is thriving and this land is still bearing us forth. There were twelve of us celebrating together from age 2 to 87, (not yet counting the emerging personality my daughter in-law is carrying) and we laughed at the chickens, flirted with the sheep, marveled at the horses and played with the dogs.
We reach back in time for wisdom and the strength to walk forward into the unknown with the gallant faith that we will forever greet the sunrise, pause with the morning dove and whisper with the trees.
Memory blurs with imagination and the only fact remaining is love of family, love of land and the state of grace that we get days like this to reflect on the spirits and see their shadows still passing through time like the clouds that pass over the fields.
Happy Memorial Day.