Memorial Day memories

Saturday, May 23, 2015
It’s been awhile since I’ve been in the school routine, but Memorial Day weekend still gives me that “summer’s here!” feeling. Growing up Memorial Day weekend signaled the start of summer and the possibilities seemed endless. I remember waking up hearing the birds sing, and lawn mowers purring in our neighborhood, and enjoying that feeling that it wasn’t just any weekend, it was the weekend that summer began!

When I think of Memorial Day weekend I think of peonies, cemeteries, Presbyterian Church hamburgers, parades, and hand bells. An odd assortment of memories, I know.

I grew up attending the Lady Vestey Victorian Festival in Superior, Nebraska – not far from where my family farms. Evelyn Vestey was a farm girl from Superior, Nebraska, who went to Chicago to work as a stenographer, and eventually met Lord Vestey and became British nobility. The town hosts a Victorian festival in her honor each Memorial Day weekend complete with a parade, Victorian home tours, and lots of good food.

My grandparents’ church sat right along the parade route and served hamburgers during the parade. We’d watch the horses, fire trucks, girl scouts and floats go by, and wave, because true to a small town, you knew about everyone.

When I was a junior in college by grandfather had a stroke that left him unable to talk – which if you knew my grandfather, being social was one of his great talents. Now looking back, those times when my parents and I would meet my grandparents at the Presbyterian church hamburger feed are more than just fond Memorial Day weekend memories. They are wonderful memories of my grandfather, and I think the ones he’d want me to remember. Dressed in his cowboy boots and hat, saying, “Well, hello, old timer!” and making his rounds throughout the entire church lawn visiting with everyone there.

Cemeteries, peonies and handbells also hold many, many Memorial Day weekend memories for me. Growing up my mother was always taking me to the cemeteries to see the graves of relatives, and she’d tell me about them. At the time I’ll admit it wasn’t always the first thing I wanted to do on my first weekend of summer, but I would go along and help decorate the graves. Now, I’m so glad that it was so important to my parents to do that.

Cemeteries are fascinating – hopefully I don’t sound too terribly morbid. But they really are! I am thankful that my parents would take me and tell me about the relatives that I never had the chance to know. I know their names, their stories, and a little bit more about the people who forged the path for the life I have today. It’s interesting to look at names and to see what was in fashion at the time, and how some names- Charlotte, Evelyn, Nora - have come back in style.

Peonies grew rampant in our North Central Kansas cemeteries and around the old Victorian homes. I’ve always loved their soft, frilly petals of rich wine, blush and white. They symbolize the beginning of summer – beautiful, fragrant and delicate. The large bushes of peonies in the cemeteries we’d visit would often have bountiful peony blooms – many so petal-laden they’d droop over. I made sure my wedding bouquet was filled with peonies- their soft, sweet petals remind me of home and of the magic of summer.

And not to forget hand bells. In high school, I joined our hand bell choir. Definitely not as cool as joining a band I realize, but they needed more musicians, and they asked and I joined. I ended up loving it. Being in a bell choir forced you to be a different kind of musician – I was used to playing the piano and flute where I was in charge of my music. In the bell choir it was a team effort. I enjoyed the group who quickly became my family and great counselors in my last years of high school.

Every Memorial Day we would play at the Weber, Kansas cemetery’s Memorial Day service. So, instead of sleeping in like many of my classmates, I’d get up early and lug the giant bell cases, tables, and mats out to the cemetery and join the choir to play.
The sound of the clear, crisp bells ringing out into the cemetery is something I’ll never forget. We’d often play patriotic songs, or Amazing Grace, and it was really poignant to have the entire cemetery filled with people be completely silent except for the bells ringing out.

Memorial Day is important for remembering. Please remember those who bravely served our country and gave their lives for our freedom. We should be thankful every day.

Also, take a moment for your own Memorial Day weekend memories. What moments of family or summer do you fondly remember from this great American weekend over the years?

Have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend. Here’s to more memories.
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