Wednesday, June 1, 2011

South of 49

Alexandra and I are down in Spokane visiting my parents. We drove down on Memorial Day, and as we passed through several small towns with their decorated cemeteries it occurred to me that Canada does not have an equivalent holiday, so an explanation might be in order for my readers North of 49.

Memorial Day originally started as a day to honour veterans. Its scope eventually broadened, and it also became a day for people to go out and do whatever maintenance was needed at their local cemetery. Grass would be cut, weeds would be pulled, and a general tidying up would be done.

Nowadays most cemeteries have caretakers to perform these tasks. Somehow the focus of the day has shifted from upkeep to "keep up", at least in small towns across the country. Please keep in mind the following observations are for small towns and rural America. I have no idea if they hold true for city people.

On Memorial Day everyone who has a family member or loved one buried at the local cemetery, in other words, Everyone, takes flowers and/or other decorative items to place on the graves of the deceased. In the town near where I grew up to leave your loved one's grave stark naked on Memorial Day would be committing a form of social suicide. Failure to conform and decorate your loved one's grave on this day will make you the source of gossip and speculation for the people who decorate nearby plots. Remember- this is small town America and everybody knows everybody else, both the living and the dead. I will give you a small example of this.

My favourite cemetery history story growing up was about a particular lady whose husband died and was buried at the cemetery. As is the custom, two plots were purchased and she had every intention of being buried next to her husband when her time came. But things got a bit awkward when she remarried and her second husband died. She wanted to be buried by both husbands, but there was no room next to her plot. The solution? She purchased three adjacent plots in another section of the cemetery, had husband #1 dug up and moved to one side and husband #2 buried on the other side. When she died she was placed between the two loves of her life.

My favourite part of Memorial Day is actually what happens after all social obligations have been met and the day has passed. It isn't exactly grave robbing. Let's call it grave regifting. Here is an example of how this works. Soon after we arrived on Monday I heard my mom on the phone with a friend who still lives near our farm. Mom was telling this person she could go take the plants that my parents had left on various graves before the caretaker disposed of them. This mass migration happens every year. In the days leading up to Memorial Day the flowers move out to the cemetery, and in the days following they are quietly taken away again to be placed on front porches and in flower beds around the community. For those people like my parents who have traveled some distance to leave the flowers, there is no way they are going back to retrieve them. Thus the regifting.

Of course, since I am at my parents' home this also means I have been able to catch up on my favourite local news - the Sheriff's Log out of the St. Maries Gazette Record. I thought I would share a few.

Saturday, May 14: A St. Maries woman called to report that she found some dentures in the roadway wrapped in a plastic bag.

Tuesday, May 17: A Plummer man called to report a loud booming noise that is consistently playing from a vehicle. He believes that he should be protected from the noise. He has complained about this before.

Wednesday, May 18: A Santa woman called and said she wants something done about her brother always blocking her mother's driveway, which makes it hard for her to get in.

Alexandra and her Grandpa
These two characters took in Pirates of the Caribbean. My dad noted that 3D technology has improved quite a bit since the last time he saw a 3D movie, which was in the 1960s.


  1. It's great that you and Alexandra are spending time with your parents. It's important for every one of you. Sorry, I tend to state the obvious far too often. I think I'm the only one in my family who makes the rounds on Memorial Day--my dad's parents are in one graveyard and my parents and my mom's parents are at another.

    Our town and church used to be as you described--everyone knew everyone (and gossiped). But both have grown too large and now most are strangers.

    My mom passed away on a Memorial Day long past. There is no good day for that, but I guess it would be hard to find a more appropriate day.

  2. Hey, have a wonderful visit! And did you notice if my parcel arrived there? :)

  3. @Ric - It will be interesting to see if the tradition of decorating graves continues through the next generation. I think it might be one of those things that transitions from common to quaint. It must be a difficult day for you given that is when your mom passed away.

    @Aneta - Delivered. :-)