She told Cheri it was too heavy for her to carry. That’s both physically and symbolically true. Cheri’s dad died three years ago, which is hard to believe. It sure doesn’t seem that long. Today is the beginning of the Memorial Weekend, and so we are heading up to Grafton to help Cheri’s mom put flowers on her dad’s grave. Now, Cheri’s dad never spent time in the military, which is what Memorial Day was originally designed to honor. It was in 1868, just a couple of years after the Civil War ended, that there began a movement to called “Decoration Day,” where the graves of soldiers, especially those who had fought in the Civil War, be decorated with flowers, as a way to commemorate their sacrifice on behalf of the country. For nearly 100 years, in small towns and large cities across the US, families would meet at graveyard and cemeteries to adorn the graves. As it turned out, they began to also put flowers on the graves of other family members as a way of “memorializing” their lives too, and so the core purpose expanded as a day of memorial. By the way, just for your information: “graveyards” are those burial places next to a church; “cemeteries” are those places disconnected from an actual house of worship, but consecrated as a final resting place. The Greek word is koimeterion, which means, “sleeping place.” Part of Cheri’s family near Grafton are buried at North Trinity Church, and some at South Trinity. North Trinity is older, and where most graveyards were at the back of the church, theirs is right in front, so that whenever you would go to church on Sunday, you would walk right between the family members’ graves to get to the church doors. I always found that fascinating. Most of my family’s ancestors, at least over the last 150 years, have been buried in cemeteries, either private or public, usually blistering hot in the summer, and bitterly cold in the winter.
Both of my parents are buried in Fort Worth, their final home since 1974. I expect one of my sisters will make sure their graves are decorated, since Dad especially was a Lt. Colonel, and served for nearly 30 years in the Air Force. Of course, that meant Mom served as well, as she helped move the family around the country and the world for all those years. It’ll be a hot day at Greenwood on Monday, for sure.
Cheri’s dad is buried at South Trinity, right below his parents and grandparents. There’s a spot reserved for Cheri’s mom, and we are making arrangements for us to also have that as the place where our ashes would be interred, when that time comes. South Trinity is out in the country right on the curve of a gravel road, but it’s a quiet place, except for when someone is working the fields around the church. Even then, that’s a comforting sound for a farming community as they stand and remember their loved ones.
But the flowers are too heavy for Cheri’s mom to carry out there by herself. So, today we will head up to the Northern valley, have lunch at Grannie’s café, and then head out the eight miles or so into the country, to place the flowers on Cheri’s dad’s grave. We won’t stay long – we never do at the cemetery/graveyard. Still, it’s an odd thing to stand there, while they talk with her dad. It’s not bad – just odd.
In my ministry, I expect I’ve been part of hundreds of funerals and burials, of all sorts. One thing I have come to believe in all of that, is that the body, or the remains of the person being buried is not that person. The spirit, soul, essence of that individual, which animated that physical body, is no longer there – only a memory. The truth is, I’ve seen my dad’s grave only twice – once at the burial, and the second time as we buried Mom’s body. I don’t really know if there will be a time when I will return there – that’s not where my glad heart is found connected to them.
Still, they are important places for many folks. I remember my mom talking about my grannie, and how Memorial Day was almost the most important day to her. That one May, before Mom and Dad were to be married in June, Grannie made plans for everyone to go up to Logan Iowa to the cemetery. Mom and Dad, in love, decided that was not where they wanted to spend their day, so they instead told them they were going to Lincoln for the day. Later that afternoon, as they were driving downtown Lincoln, they looked over and saw Grannie, stomping down the sidewalk. Dad stopped and told her to get in the car, but she would only get in after Mom had to move to the back seat, and she sat in the front. Lots of stories about Grannie…
I’m not sure we have more than another generation before Memorial Day is just a day off. Outside of military families, and some in small towns, that tradition is starting to fade quickly. Still, for this Memorial Day, Cheri’s dad will have flowers in his grave, placed there by his wife and one daughter – and they will remember him. There is something intentionally good and even sacred about that. Have a good weekend. And think of someone you can recall who is no longer with you.
Word for the day: whiffle. Pronounced WHIFF-ul. No – it’s not like the ball, since actually, the ball that can’t be thrown very far, and never leaves a welt when it hits someone is spelled, “wiffle,” a made up name for a game. “Whiffle” with the “h” actually comes from an ancient word, wifle, which is translated “battle ax.” What the word really means is the sound that is produced while waving a sword at high speed through the air, usually as part of a dance. The sound made is a whistling, air-rushing sound, that became known as a “whiffle.” It actually takes a lot of strength and coordination to move a sword to make that sound, even if the word to describe sounds kind of silly as a result.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.