Of Course, We Remember Them

I'm not much for visiting cemeteries.

It probably goes back to the first Memorial Day I remember, with Grandma Ferner and my mother taking me out to Graceland. And, this Graceland had nothing to do with Elvis.

It was the oldest cemetery in town, if you didn't count the Indian burial grounds. Covered with huge trees. Aging tombstones. And worms.

Worms, worms, worms. Everywhere. Maybe five years old, I was convinced they were sent by the devil, for sure, and that they were flying, as hundreds of them landed on my shoulders and in my hair. Now I realize they were probably airborne on some sort of webs.

I never went back. In fact, I didn't stay the first time. Let Grandma and mother put the flowers out.

Lilacs, of course. And peonies. Big glorious peonies. Which, I love today. But pre-teen peonies meant ants. And I wasn't fond of them, either.

But they weren't as threatening as the creatures at Memorial Park Cemetery. The newest cemetery in town, Memorial Park had flat headstones, no tombstones. Hardly any trees. And, no worms.

But it did have birds. The cemetery imported swans and geese and ducks each spring. Located on a small pond, they became almost a tourist attraction. They were just down the hill from babyland, a special part of the cemetery with hedges, planted to form three huge, circular heart-shaped areas. Children were buried inside the hedges.

We used to go out to the cemetery when my father decided to take us for a ride on Sunday. Do families with children still go for Sunday afternoon drives?

We'd drive out past the Billy Sunday tabernacle and nursing home, farther out of town than the last trolley stop, and through the big gates into the cemetery. He'd let us out of the car to walk over the little footbridge on the pond.

After a goose, guarding a nest, attacked, I didn't think visiting that cemetery was any better than going to the wormy one.

And I didn't go back until we buried my father there many, many years later.

Maybe I'd rather remember people as they were alive. Or maybe it's the worms. I'm not sure. But, I've only visited once in ten years and, even if it was closer than 1,500 miles from here, I probably still wouldn't visit. As I said, I'm just not keen on visiting cemeteries.

But I appreciate the fact that his fellow veterans will remember him this weekend by placing a flag on his grave. I have no idea who to thank, but I do appreciate it.

If he were in Westfield, I'd know who to thank. All of our veterans. The veterans that still remember. Those dwindling numbers who fought in World War I and II. And still care enough to have memorial services several times a year, to honor the vets that served in all the wars. The ones who provide flags, candlelight ceremonies, and parades.

So I'll march with them, and the mayor, the senator, the police and firemen, the city councilors, the bands, the Shriners, the Sheriff's deputies, and the veterans on Monday. From Mestek to Parker Park, where there'll be a Memorial Day program, and on to American Legion Post 124 to honor Thomas Cusack who, in memory of his father, Robert, will place 1,300 flags on veterans graves in Westfield this weekend.

I hope you'll be there, too.

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