While my family used the Memorial Day weekend as a three day weekend to make and eat food and play games, my wife's family behavior was about 180 degrees away.
She was born and raised in Ohio. Her mother and father were from rural southern West Virginia, in areas like Lenore and Mingo County. They moved back to southern West Virginia with my wife when she was fourteen. It was not home but a few hours away, up north around Beckley, WV, in Raleigh County.
Whether they lived in West Virginia or Ohio, Memorial Day was Decoration Day. It was a cause to drive to Mingo County and the family cemetary. They lived on a dirt street off the highway where the family build several small houses in a row. We'd call those houses cottages because of their size. It was hilly land, part of a mountainous region. On the hill beside the first house was a garden. Up the hill from garden and the houses less than a football field away was the family cemetary.
Less it was for generations and decades. For some reason, another family cemetary was started and some of those were buried over there.
Her family was full of traditions. When someone died, the viewing was held in the house, in the living room, for several days. Then they were taken to the cemetary up the hill or down the highway and buried with solemn pomp.
Decoration day meant getting in the car and driving down there. Back in my wife's childhood, there wasn't an Interstate going down there. The trip was down one and two lane black top roads. Roads snaked and twisted up and down mountainsides with crumbling berms that overlooked precipitous drops. In the mountain valleys were one lane bridges crossing wild, roaring rivers. Whenever vehicles meant traveling in opposite directions, each would pull over to let the other through, if they could, waving to one another and saying, "Come on," until one driver accepted the offer based on who was in the better spot. Sometimes the pull over was a narrow scrap by. Two to three hours were needed to get down there.
Now there is the Interstate and the New River Gorge Bridge. Time to get there has been cut by about half. It's not nearly as nerve wracking on drivers or passengers.
Photo from Wikipedia.org
Their planned trips weren't usually communicated to the people they were coming to visit but they were home because they were home folk. Television was a black and white affair. Later it became color. Outdoor antennas delivered sketchy reception. More often in the young days, they were working in the garden or sitting on the porch, rocking and talking and regarding the world. Later a window unit provided air conditioning and the cable delivered entertainment so they would be inside, in a chair with the air conditioning and television going.
My wife's family would arrive in the car. They'd get out and go into the house and visit for a while. Then they'd go to the cemetary and put flowers on the grave. Talk was about who had lived and died and how the family tree had spread. "When was the last time you heard from so and so was a common question?" "Or where is so and so? She still married to that fella?"
Others had moved away, up north to Huntington and Parkersburgh, WV, up to Ohio, or west to Kentucky. Sometimes one of those families would arrive, too, and there would be more catching up.
Now most of the southern West Virginia residents are buried in those cemetaries, along with the generation that visited the graves. The generation after that has mostly moved on to other places. Decoration Day is rarely done in the twenty-first century, with those who did it now too old or invalid, or like my wife, too far away. The families have spread to Pennsylvania, Florida, California, Chicago, Texas, North Carolina and Oregon, at least that's the last we've heard.
So no one is likely to visit the graves. Instead, the visits will be done in memories.
Causes Michael Seidel Supports
Kiva, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Propublica.org, Doctors Without Borders, GreaterGood.com