Every year, my father-in-law goes to the cemetery to plant flowers for his deceased relatives. It was usually a family affair when my husband and his siblings were young, but now usually he either does it alone or Michael will call him and ask if he and the children can go along. In his Irish family, roots are of supreme importance. I have found, in being married to an Irishman, that I am indeed related to half the known world. It is the only group where I can truly say that someone is "my 4th cousin 4 times removed" with a straight face and actually expect to be embraced.
But, I digress (as usual). Roots are important to Michael so he takes the children to visit his Grandparents and Great-Grandparents graves, as well as various Great-Aunts and Great-Uncles and old family friends. My children know all of their names and countless stories about them: what they did for a living, who they were as people, what they were like...
My family does not do this. I think I went to visit my grandfather's grave one time when I was 8, the year after he died. We planted a tree. The tree did not make it. Thus, we were consigned to search the moonscape of flat gravestones searching for our grandparents' graves.
When my uncle died, recently, we all went to look for the grave, since we were there. We had a very hard time finding it. I was mortified, since I know where each of Michael's people are buried. And when we finally did find it, it was starkly different from the well-tended, flower-laden gravestones of the O'Keefe family: bare and lifeless. But, is the comparison fair?
We celebrate our grandparents' legacy differently. We celebrate their lives through what they did and where they were. My uncle and cousin run the family business. My cousin is the 4th generation of opticians. Our family is very proud of the fact that we were the first licensed opticians in the state of Ohio. I frequently tell my children that the reason we plant Geraniums is because my Grandma Harris always had them in the front window of her house. In fact, she had discovered a way to make her geraniums last year-round and save her the money of buying new annuals each year. She put them each in a clay pot and then buried them, pot and all, in the front flower bed. Then, in the fall, she would dig up the pot, wash it off, and put it in her front family room window. Mom and Dad estimate that the geraniums we "inherited" were about 17 years old. And, yes, my kids know that story.
My Grandpa Joe gave us all the gift of music. We cease to function without our music. I have my grandfather's reed organ in my dining room. It was in my living room, but my son wanted to be able to play duets with the organ and piano, so he moved it in next to the piano. My grandfather had wanted to be a musician, but was not allowed to go to school for music, because he had to run the family business. His love of music saturated the family, however. And we are greatly indebted.
My grandmother Kate is remembered every time I sign my name. Not to mention the fact that she gave me a taste for Boston Baked Beans and Brown Bread. (YUM!) She also left me a love of live baseball. I can remember going to Clippers' games with her and my mother and having them tell me how it all worked.
I didn't know my Grandpa Leo hardly at all, but, my mother always told me he loved to drive. and he could tell what was wrong with an engine, just by listening to it. I have found that I can usually tell what wrong, but I have no idea how to fix it. And I do remember him, whenever I open the hood of a car and think, I wish I had known him better.
My father and I just recently finished our terms on the Board of Directors for the club that my Harris relatives belonged to. My Grandfather actually served on the board himself in the early 1970's. Because we had so many family events at that club, we can't help but remember the fun we had every time we go there. I can remember very clearly playing hide and seek in the telephone booth (which I thought was cool because there was carpet on every wall and the ceiling, too.).
I recently attended an office party at the club. I walked around with some of my co-workers and showed them the portraits of the Chorus through the years. They were amazed when I was able to point out my Grandfather, Father, Mother, Cousins and Godparents in the pictures. Unlike the bare lifeless gravestones we found in the flatlands of Resurrection Cemetery, we found their legacy coloring the walls and hearts of the places and people they touched. And we work to maintain those memorials.
It isn't that we don't remember our dead. It's simply that we remember them differently.
Happy Memorial Day! May all your remembrances be sweet!