Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Memorial Day Traditions - A Flowery Tribute to Those We Love

     It's time for the annual migration back to my family's ancestral home. I'll drive 400 miles to spend the Memorial Day holiday visiting relatives in the Midwest. For a lot of people Memorial Day is the Traditional start of the Summer season. For some, it means a day off from work. And for others, it's a day filled with parties, barbecues and parades.

     In Northwest Ohio- where we're all from- it's a Tradition to decorate the graves of our dearly departed. We spend a few hours going from cemetery to cemetery, planting flowers to honor our loved ones. This year, I'll be making my first Memorial Day visit to my Father's grave. I'll finally see the monument we ordered. It was such an ordeal getting one engraved the way we wanted. There's Dad's name along with some poems he wrote. Mom's name is on there too- but we expect Mom to be with us for a long time yet. At the top of the stone there's an etching of daffodils. Dad especially liked daffodils- whenever we'd move Dad would dig up his daffodils and take them with us to the new place. Dad was always a big part of our Memorial Day observances. I have vivid memories of Dad leaving flowers at his parents' graves. And at his Grandparents' too. There were always visits to the graves of our extended family- Great Grandpa's Brother, Grandma's Sister and so on. I suppose it might sound a bit odd to people not familiar with this Tradition. But in truth, we reminisce, we share stories, we remember. It's actually very nice.

     We'll stay at the family cottage- which isn't even in Ohio. It's in Indiana, about 5-miles over the state line. We call it going to the lake. And opening the cottage for the Summer is another Memorial Day Tradition we've observed for many years. My family started going to the lake in 1910. There was no electricity, no air conditioning and no fridge. We had an ice box that we filled with real ice to keep food chilled. We had to fetch water from a hand-pump a quarter mile down the road. Great Grandma Strayer planted lilies out in front. The original place was just a big tent- the kind made out of heavy canvas- like the ones soldiers use. Sometime in the 1930's, somebody ordered a pre-fab garage from the Montgomery Ward catalog. There was no foundation- they perched the garage atop four 50-pound nail kegs filled with cement- one at each corner. We installed wood paneling over the garage door and cut a doorway in the side. And that was our cottage. Over the years, we added a porch, a bedroom and even a toilet- but no shower. We used to take baths in the lake.

    Over memorial Day we'll remember the old days. We'll talk about how Great Grandpa Friedrich- he was a tavern owner- took a keg of beer on the Ferry. People on the boat heard two loud splashes. The first splash was the keg falling overboard. The second splash was Great Grandpa Friedrich diving in after it. And yes, he got the keg back on the boat. We'll go to the local fire hall on Saturday morning- for the annual Memorial Day pancake breakfast. And we'll go "round the round" just like Grandpa Bud used to do. Bud would drive around and around a phone pole down by the railroad tracks- just to listen to all the kids squeal. The phone pole isn't even there anymore. But we'll be sure to drive around and around in a circle where it used to stand.

    About 10 years ago our cottage collapsed- a victim of old age. Dad had it rebuilt before he died. The new one is very modern- it doesn't smell moldy- and it has a shower too. The old place is long gone, but Great Grandma Strayer's lilies are still right there. And this Memorial Day I'll be right there too- along with the rest of my family. It's Tradition.

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