To "Not Forget"

by Kimberley Thompson, Tastemaker in Residence

Back seats large as davenports.
Awaking before daylight.
Empty, grey roads misty with dew.
Mom pouring Dad steaming Folgers from the red plaid Thermos.
Soft voices touching memories in my sleepy mind.
The change in the tires' cadence from asphalt to gravel.

My Memorial Day memories as a child never varied much from year to year. Oh, an occasional extra sibling was in the car; but as the youngest child it was typically my parents and myself in the big red sedan.

I'd have the immense back seat to myself; with feather pillows and quilts to snuggle in. We always left so early in the morning: before dawn so we could get to the first cemetery in time to meet Dad's 2 older sisters at his Mother's grave. (I say "first" since we did a circuit of 3 cemeteries: my Dad's Mother, my Dad's grandparents and my Mom's grandparents.)

We'd pull into the southern Minnesota country cemetery...unto quiet grassy alleys. Mom would always worry out loud about where to turn and was it a section farther? Dad grew silent as we slowed to a stop near another dusty car.

His older sisters stood arm in arm watching our approach and exit from the car. Somberly, quiet hugs were exchanged as Dad opened the trunk and took out his hand held grass trimmers and small rake.

The adults walked to a low arched granite tombstone...the brother and 2 sisters staring at the simple words carved there.

"She was so young." I don't know which of my aunts said it...but my mind still hears the grief and loss in that phrase.

Dad would carefully kneel and start trimming the winter shabby grass from around her tombstone. Once that was done, he raked away the debris from the whole plot. 

My aunts would scrub the stone with soapy water, worn hands lingering over her name. Clear rinse water from a jug finished the ritual.

Their voices rose and fell as the adults talked about her "last days," and what they remembered. They talked about her love for her 8 children, her grit as she struggled with my grandpa to raise their children during the Great Depression, her humor, her toughness and her resilience. 

"Store bought" bouquets were the last of the ritual. Carefully tucked in old vases with plenty of cold water "to keep" them, they were leaned against her stone as if to embrace each other.

Mom would motion for me to get back to the car as she picked up Dad's tools. I remember always looking back at the 3 siblings standing by their Mother's grave; once again they were 19, 18 and 15 lost in grief.

Goodbyes were exchanged; each word tumbling and fading away. Promises to relay messages to the other siblings. Promises to drive safe. Promises to "soon" get together. 

Promises...not verbalized but obvious in the damp glances back at the still wet tombstone...promises to "not forget."

To "Not Forget." That is the simplest essence of Memorial Day...the stopping to remember, to honor, to grieve, to never forget those who left.