When I was a ten, my parents visited the cemetery almost weekly. Their mission was to decorate my oldest brother Joe’s grave. Joe died when he was seven years old. The last Sunday in May was always special because it was so hard to get into the cemetery. World War Two had ended just a few years earlier, and Saint Mary’s in Evergreen Park celebrated like most Catholic Cemeteries did, they had an outdoor mass. Most times Dad had to park outside the cemetery, and we had to walk to my brother’s grave. The place crawled with VFW and American Legion Honor Guards dressed in the uniforms of their service, Navy, Army, Marines, etc. Gun shots were heard for miles away, as each post honored its member at the gravesite with a seven-gun salute.
Mom and Dad never called this holiday Memorial Day, It was always Decoration Day. It was the day when people who had loved ones at Saint Mary’s came to clean off the winter grave blankets and to replace it with live flowers. Mom spent a few minutes at the local nursery studying the floral grave designs, picked one, and bought the plants. It just occurred to me that she never had a blue print for the design, but always planted the flowers exactly as she remembered them at the nursery display. It was my job to run back and forth with a watering can to get water for the new plants.The funny thing is that in her later years she couldn’t remember my name or who I was; time does that to us.
After Mom finished Joe’s grave she went to my Aunt’s next. Dad and Mom knelt at each grave they visited and said a prayer of remembrance
Decoration Day was always sunny and warm, usually one of the first good days of Spring. It made spending a day honoring the dead a sorrowful, but joyous occasion. By the time we left it was near lunch. Dad drove us home in the big Buick, and Mom made lunch. The rest of the day caught us lazing around on a full stomach watching the grass grow.