Growing up in Texas away from my extended family, I didn't really celebrate Memorial Day. My junior year of high school when I was in Arizona I did get to attend a remembrance service and then decorate family gravesites in my dad's hometown.
When I moved out to Utah, I started spending Memorial Day weekend with my mom's family. That was when I learned that in American culture, Memorial Day isn't just about remembering the military dead but all those who have passed on. It's sort of like Dia de Los Muertos in Mexico, except without the candy skulls. On Memorial Day weekend in Utah, everyone goes out and decorates the graves of their deceased loved ones. Some people even go so far as to have family gatherings and picnics on the grave sites--I'm being serious.
I wasn't able to do this last year because I had a job at the time and I was working.
Sunday night, my mom's family--my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins--meets at the Washington Terrace Cemetery in Ogden, Utah. We meet at the grave of my grandpa Bair's parents, Russell Bair and Ione Thompson.
Great Grandma Bair is the only great-grandparent I knew in my lifetime. She died right after my baby sister was born.
We then go to the grave of Great Grandma's parents and then to the grave of Grandpa's friend Jim Jenkins. We usually have a hard time finding Jim's grave, because Grandma and Grandpa don't recall exactly where it is from year to year, but this year we actually went straight for it. After the cemetery gathering, the family goes back to Grandma and Grandpa's house for ice cream.
On Monday, Grandma and Grandpa Bair go to Cache Valley to visit the graves of their relatives. They are usually joined by my uncle Lyle and aunt Cathy. This year Cathy's granddaughter Hayley and their adorable dachshund Jazzy came with us, too.
We always start out at the North Ogden Cemetery. Grandma's aunt Jenny is buried there. Grandma Bair's mother died young, and Aunt Jenny took her in and raised her.
In the years since I've been going with them, our first stop has been Bear River City near Tremonton. That is where my dad's grandmother Grace Freeman Downing Cole Checketts is buried next to her second husband, Charles Checketts. Grandpa doesn't mind, since he has a couple of friends buried in Bear River as well, and of course my mom's parents and my dad's parents are good friends. I like being able to honor my great-grandmother.
Sometimes I wonder who brings the other flowers. Does anyone come after me, and notice what I brought? Does anyone know that one of Grace's biological descendants comes to visit?
Of course, the people whose graves we visit know we've been there.
Can I just say I LOVE the drive through Cache Valley?
Our next stop is Richmond. Grandpa Bair's parents and great-grandparents are up there.
Richmond Cemetery is also where the remains of John Bair are located--John Bair being one of the colonizer/dynastic founder figures on my mom's side.
This year I was mesmerized by the view from the hill.
Also I found a patch of lilacs near John Bair's marker. They're still fresh and smelling great!
Next we go to the Logan Cemetery, right behind USU. Logan Cemetery doesn't quite have the small-town charm of Richmond and Bear River. However, it's a fun cemetery precisely because it's big. There are people from many different countries and cultures buried there. There's "Babyland," where lots of infants are buried. There's monuments of every shape and size, statues and marble tombs. There are even landmark graves that Hayley looks for every time she comes up, like the one with the recipe on it. When I was at the Logan cemetery two years ago, I found a headstone decorated with legos--we didn't get to see it up close this year but it was fun to remember it.
My grandma's parents and grandparents are buried in the Logan City Cemetery on the north side. Then we walk all the way across the cemetery to visit the Daleys' gravesite. The Daleys took care of my grandma and put her through college before she got married.
|Headstones of Grandma Bair's parents, Lolin Smith and Clifford Lee Atkinson|
There's only one real veteran among the graves we visit in Cache Valley. Jack Bassett served in World War II and then came home and married my grandma's aunt Elaine. Jack and Elaine are buried smack in the middle of Logan Cemetery. Then we walk over to Babyland to visit the grave of a baby of one of Grandma's friends.
After the Logan Cemetery, my grandma's family, the Atkinsons, meet at a local restaurant for a reunion. This year we went to Firehouse Pizzeria on the south side of Logan. Firehouse has great food and excellent service so I can definitely recommend it.
The Atkinson reunion is usually Grandma and Grandpa Bair's last stop in Cache Valley. This year, however, we made a detour to Hyrum. Grandma's brother Kendall is buried in the cemetery there. He died right before I graduated from college, so almost two years ago now. It took forever to find his grave, though, since Grandma and Grandpa couldn't remember its location--and I even walked past it while looking for it. I can guarantee I won't forget where it is next time!
I'd never been to the Hyrum cemetery before, and the view is amazing. I swear the more I see of Cache Valley the more I think I'd be okay with living there.
To me, Memorial Day isn't about death so much as remembering the lives of those who came before us. Every person in a cemetery has a story, and each headstone tells just a small piece of it.
I'm thankful for the privilege to remember those who have gone on before me. I wish I knew their stories a little better. I'm also thankful to go back to Cache Valley, where my family (on both sides, believe it or not) has its roots.