By Amy McCollom
When I was a kid, they called it Decoration Day, and it was for all the dead people, not just the dead soldiers. Memorial Day now seems to be all about our armed forces, not to belittle that fact in any way. I come from a long line of military heroes; both of my parents were in the military, and my uncles on my dad’s side all served except for one who had juvenile diabetes, and couldn’t go. I have a great deal of respect for all of the armed forces. If it weren’t for those willing to go and who stood and fought, we certainly wouldn’t have America today. May we never forget that. But are we still honoring the regular dead people to, cause no one’s really said anything about that?
I remember as a kid, getting up early, and helping load the car with all of the things for the long trip. Coolers, food, Mom’s German chocolate cake (the only kind she made for years, with that thick gooey topping that stuck to the tin foil), jello in Tupperware bowls, if we were lucky, some Vess pop in flavors other than root beer. Then we would make the trip from our home in Tuscola, to all the important graves, starting with Blackie’s grave at the corner of highways 16 and 49, near Ashmore, IL.
Blackie the Dog was famous in those parts for being so devoted to his master, that he never left that corner. Apparently having been dumped or forgotten there, he waited there all summer, fall, and almost through the next winter, watching every car that went by, for his master to come back for him. People who lived around there tried to adopt him, but Blackie would have no part of it. They brought him food, and at Thanksgiving, the turkey bones were stacked taller than him! Someone even built him a little shelter there on that corner as it became winter.
Blackie still stood watch, waiting for his master, whom he loved and was devoted. Then one cold and icy day in February, a car struck and killed Blackie, and his faithful watch was over. A tombstone was erected in his memory, lest we forget of his love, loyalty, bravery, endurance, strength, heart, and patience. On that tombstone is carved, “BLACKIE Feb 6, 1966 Know ye now true loyalty & love.” Children from the area volunteer to keep the area mowed and cleaned up. It was and still is my favorite stop on Memorial Day.
Next, we would head towards Paris, stopping at small country cemeteries and graveyards along the way, which I honestly could probably never find today, to visit the graves of people I barely knew. My siblings, Dad, and I would stand back and wait for my mom to tear up, while gnats in the grass would nibble on our ankles and the hot sun would scorch our hair almost into flames. After her sobbing moments and adequate amount of time looking down at our feet in respectful contemplation of imagining someone we never knew, off to the next graveyard.
My mom always insisted on having an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, two-door, and riding in the backseat of one of those cars was like being tucked into a velvet purse. The seats sank down like a cup, there was a huge pouch that could hold a full size world atlas in front of you, the tiny 5 by 7 stationary window was too small and too high to see through, and there was a big hump in the middle where an arm rest pulled out. It was ok if you wanted to sleep the whole time, but I wanted to see where I was going. Maybe that’s why I got car sick a lot. I felt like I was being carried by a giant, tucked inside a red crushed velvet pouch, jostled and tossed about.
My brother got to sit on the hump, (because he was smaller and my sister was in the other cup to his right), thus he always got to see which way we were going. Today he has a very good inner directional compass when he needs to go places. I couldn’t find my way out of a velvet purse, on the other hand.
One thing I noticed about graveyards and cemeteries; they all have gnats that bite your ankles. My mom used to comment about how pretty they all look with all of the flowers placed on the graves. She was right about that. It was eerily pretty.
I really should make the rounds again, now that I am older and have enough sense to wear taller socks to a graveyard. If I don’t teach my kids and grandkids where these ancestors of old lie at rest, who will? I know, there’s the internet, and Findagrave. Blah blah. But I want it to be me. I can get my brother to help, with his GPS brain. I need to get to work before I become just another memory or stop to make, in a line of many.
I know that everybody makes their own choices and becomes their own person, and sometimes their past has little to do with that. But there is a part of me that believes there is always a little of the past, the valor of a hero perhaps, the patience of a saint, the talent of a maestro, the kindness of an angel, the soundness of a king, or the loyalty of a friend that still runs through my veins. And that is what drives me to search, read, and learn.
As Winnie the Pooh once said, “You are braver than you believe, smarter than you think, and stronger than you seem.” I know I am, and you are too. Let’s find out where that comes from!