I believe the term “Memorial Day” officially came into being when the Monday Holiday Bill became law in 1971. However, to her death, almost 30 years later, my mother continued to call it by its original moniker, “Decoration Day.” I believe that was probably because her family, and many others in her generation always celebrated the holiday by decorating the graves of deceased family members and friends – not just those who had been in the military (of whom there were many in our family), but all who had “gone before.”
In Michigan, where I grew up, you could put a suitable grave plant (geraniums were very popular) into the ground by a gravestone at the end of May and it would probably still be healthy and blooming on Labor Day at the beginning of September. Mother Nature watered the plants regularly all summer.
We had close family members in at least a half-dozen cemeteries within 50 miles of our house, and we decorated as many as possible on or near the holiday.
We lost the tradition when we moved to California, but one of my mother’s nephews, Bill Bostwick, continued it in her place. In addition, he recorded the day’s events in an annual letter which she loved receiving. I still have the one he wrote to her in 1999. Here are some excerpts:
“We used your flower money (thank you very much) to buy eight beautiful geraniums at the Royal Oak, Michigan, Farmers’ Market.”
“Our usual route is Pleasant Ridge to Minden City, to Forestville, to Harbor Beach, to Bad Axe, and the home. We leave at 9:00 a.m. and get home at 4:00 p.m.”
“At Minden City we planted one geranium at the graves of Edwin and Lucy Bostwick [Bill’s paternal grandparents]. Lucy died in 1899 (100 years ago.) That impressed me. Driving through Minden City always brings back memories as we go past the drug store where Grandpa Riedel bought us ice cream sodas, and past the hotel and lumber yard. En route to Forestville, we pass Dad’s school house [Kelley School], Grandpa Bostwick’s farm, the church where Grandpa Riedel’s funeral was held, and on to the cemetery.”
“At the Forestville cemetery, things are quite orderly. We swept leaves away from the marble slabs covering the graves and planted two geraniums (one for each) [at the graves of Bill’s (and my) maternal grandparents, Louis Riedel and Anna Schreiter Riedel]. It crossed my mind that I am probably the only family member left to visit this grave site now that Phyllis Symons has passed on.”
“The water level in Lake Huron is down this year. As we drive along the shore toward Harbor Beach, we can see how far away from shore the water line has moved, with sand bars and rocks protruding. Many boat owners’ docks are high and dry.”
What a wonderful way to celebrate loved ones, relive memories, and observe and record the present!