This past Sunday was the first Sunday in September . . . which means it was also Decoration Day at Memorial Gardens in Collinwood . . . which means, as usual, it snuck up on me and I managed to schedule an abundance of other things on what should have been a restful holiday weekend (as if such a thing actually exists . . .).
I still found time to travel eastward that afternoon. It took some doing and some schedule rearranging, but I didn’t want to miss my annual trip. No, I don’t have any family buried there—or friends for that matter—but there is no way to describe the event that is Decoration at Collinwood, except to say it must be seen to be believed. You know the old saying “a picture’s worth a thousand words”? Well, that’s the honest to goodness truth where this is concerned. If you doubt me, scroll back to Tuesday’s post on our Facebook page and take a moment to behold the magnificence that is the first Sunday in September at the cemetery. Those are just a few of the scores of pictures I took and the thousand or so I could have.
These folks go above and beyond decorating the graves of their loved ones, and the first time I ever saw it I remember thinking there wasn’t enough room left to walk. When we were working on the new building that sits adjacent to the cemetery, I watched during the week before their Decoration as families came to put in place what must have been in the planning stages since the year before. And it wasn’t just the older folks. Everyone was there . . . and they brought their children with them, teaching them the ancient traditions and the reasoning behind the work.
The parking lot at the funeral home was full when I arrived and the cemetery looked as amazing as it always does. Families gathered around the graves of their loved ones, posing for pictures, putting up tarps or setting up folding chairs in the nearest shady spot, visiting with their friends and neighbors and wandering the grounds to take in all the hard work that was evident.
As I began my trek across the cemetery, camera in hand and hair pulled back so maybe I wouldn’t melt or look like Phyllis Diller when I finished, I realized two people were traveling in the same direction, just a few feet behind me. They appeared to be a grandmother and her grandson; I won’t even begin to guess at her age (‘cause that wouldn’t be polite) but I’d say the boy was eight . . . maybe nine. As they slowly moved toward some unknown destination, I could hear him asking, “Was that one a veteran?” “Was he a veteran?” and his grandmother would answer yes, or no, whichever was appropriate, and then explained that he could look for the monument that was usually at the foot of the grave. If there was one there, then that person was probably a veteran.
They continued their walk with his question now becoming a statement when he found the identifying plaque, until they reached a companion monument which had, among other things, a vase of flowers sitting on it. At least it had been, but something had caused it to topple over and, although the vase survived and the flowers remained in place, it was now on its side instead of upright. And he noticed. And it concerned him—so he pointed it out to his grandmother. She told him it would be alright to set it back up and with her permission he walked over, carefully wrapped his hand around the neck of the vase, and slowly picked it up. As she encouraged his efforts and offered direction, he placed it back on the monument, now in an upright position, and took a step back. This wise woman praised his deed, telling him what a good job he’d done, and they moved on.
It’s moments like that which tell me Decoration Day in Collinwood will continue long after the next generation joins their family members there. This woman took time to teach her grandson the language of the cemetery and its monuments—and respect for those who rest beneath its sacred ground. And she wasn’t the only one . . . just the one I happened to be closest to that day. Everyone there was remembering and honoring and acknowledging the importance of the past and those who helped shape the person they have become. To quote the English poet and author George Elliot, “Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.” Every first Sunday in September the folks in Collinwood take the time to tell the world they haven’t forgotten.