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Friday, May 27, 2011

Memorial Day - Remembering the Fallen, Family and Total Strangers | Maris Ehlers Photography

It doesn't matter that I haven't lived in my hometown since 1987.  For as long as I live, I will always have a vivid memory of the cemetery there.  My mom used to take us there sometimes as kids.  We probably went out of boredom and the need for something to do that didn't cost money, I'm not really sure. We didn't have any family buried there at the time, but I remember we'd walk along... mom, my brother and I, and read the names and dates of various stones that captured our interest:  Wondering what their story was and how they ended up there.  

Some of the stories we knew because we recognized the names or knew the people in some way, but others were mysterious to us.  Maybe it was that a last name was the same as someone we knew, or some detail on their headstone would make us wonder. Sometimes we'd make up our own stories to satisfy our curiosity. 

I wouldn't say it was FUN, but I would say it was interesting.  It was like a local history lesson, and I don't ever remember thinking it odd to be walking through the rows of headstones trying to pronounce names and dates.  I like to think we were honoring what cemeteries are actually for:  remembering the people who were placed there.  

The cemetery in my home town sat on a piece of land where the back edge of it turned almost into a drop off that went down to the shores of the beautiful Bitterroot River.  There was a set of long, old creaky wooden stairs that you could climb down to get to the riverbank, but as those stairs were often the setting for horror stories told at slumber parties, we never went down them as kids.  I finally made the journey down and then up them on a dare in high school with a group of kids.  I was so relieved when I made it back up to the top!  

My mother-in-law prepares for Memorial Day each year by planting flowers at the graves of her relatives at the nearby cemeteries. She's done it every year, without fail since her mother died in 1970.  She says she has gone there without fail every year since she was a small child to plant the graves of relatives, most of whom she never even knew. 

I hadn't gone with her to do this for years, so this spring my daughter and I decided that we would offer our services as her "helpers".  My daughter had never been to a cemetery before, so I wasn't certain what she would think or how she would react, but her response was so similar to ours as children.  

We weren't much help in the planting department, but we ended up spending a lovely evening hearing stories about relatives of long ago and trying to find the oldest headstones.  At the second cemetery, there seemed to be more children buried there, and that gave us pause.  We visited them, we wondered, we pulled some weeds, and had much empathy for the families who still mourn for them every day. 

At first I was shy to get my camera out, but ended up taking pictures anyway.  As if I could resist.  

Here are a few of the things that I captured on a spring evening not so unlike several I spent as a child with my own mom.  

Nanny and A at the freshly planted headstone of A's great grandparents.  
I loved the detail of moss on this old headstone. 
A delicate pattern on a solid surface.  Meant to stand the test of time. 

In German, with an angel at the top.
This one is so old it has broken off.  This was at the very back of the cemetery.  I would guess there is a new marker at the actual grave.  
Another one.  Look how different the moss is on this one. 
Here Nanny tells A the history of someone buried there. 
A veteran from the 1800's. 
I can't imagine losing a child, but especially right after the depression.  That would be what hopelessness would feel like. 
Talk about local history.  This couple lived on a farm near my mother-in-law's family, and they were murdered in their sleep by their hired hand.  
I love the detailing on this simple marker. 
One life.  One day.  
Forever Twenty Five. 
A helping Nanny at the grave of her uncle, who died as a baby. 
Nanny is always so patient with the little hands of little helpers. 
A father, mother and daughter all buried at the same time.  I can only wonder what happened. 
I can't imagine having to try to capture the spirit of someone I love in one sentence for eternity. 

The momentos left at children's graves are always so touching. 
Here, someone left this little boy their West Point Military Academy medallion.  

Here, the Easter Bunny even visited this child's grave last month. 

Mother and children say goodbye to their father and capture that moment in time. 
So true. 
Here A stands behind the grave of her great great great grandmother.
The only thing worse than losing one angel...  
Would be to lose a second.  This one made my heart hurt.
This man, called simply by the most important name he was likely ever given.  Father.  
As you prepare to celebrate Memorial Day this year, I hope you will take a moment at 3:00 p.m. to honor those who have fallen in service to our country with a moment of silence or a tribute of some sort. Also consider to take a moment and share a story of a loved one no longer with you with a child.   What a great day to have a local or family history lesson.

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