Memorial Day Weekend Traditions

Union Cemetery, Guthrie Center, Iowa

Memorial Day weekend is kind of a major holiday for our family.  Historically, Memorial Day (or Decoration Day) is about remembering those who lost their lives during service.  For my family, the entire weekend is about all family, and remembering all of those who have passed.  The females in my family keep some time-honored traditions when it comes to remembering our people.

Saturday or Sunday, depending on which day has the best weather, we visit several cemeteries (mostly in Guthrie County) to decorate the graves of grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.  For about as long as I have been alive, I have been making trips to the cemeteries – a long-standing ritual on my mother’s side.  When I was young, I went with Grandma C. (my great-grandma ), Grandma, Mom and my younger sister to the cemetery to decorate graves.  Later, it was Grandma, Mom and my sister.  Now it is Mom, my sister, and our kids

Our annual trip always includes these cemeteries

  • Morrisburg (between Stuart & Panora)
  • South Oak (Stuart)
  • West Cass Township (Panora)
  • Greenwood aka the East Cemetery (Panora)
  • Union (Guthrie Center)
  • Dalmanutha (somewhere in the between Guthrie Center and Casey)
  • We usually hit up Sunnyhill at Adair.

Mom has always bought live annuals to plant at each grave.  I like the idea of planting annuals too.  You don’t have to go back and take down the decorations afterwards.  The plant will either live for the remainder of summer, or get mowed over and return to the earth – most likely the latter.  It’s very “organic”.

My mom’s brother, father and grandfather were all cemetery sextons at one time for the Panora cemeteries.  I think the men would be happy with her annuals as well.  They would not have had to pick up the flowers, or mow or trim around them. See, annuals make for happy groundskeepers too!

Every year, Mom packs the trunk of her car with the “annual of the year” (marigolds, petunias, geraniums, daisies, etc.), hand shovels and a couple gallons of water. I’m the designated driver.  Once we get to the graveside, my sister or I dig the holes for the flowers.  The kids get to plant the flowers while we talk about how we are related to that particular person, and of course, we look around a lot.

We have other traditions as well.  Like the two graves that we can never find without taking a tour of the entire cemetery. Every year we say that we are going to remember where they are, and every year we forget.  And every year when we get to the East Cemetery, we say we should bring a lunch with us and picnic.  And we never do.

This Memorial Day weekend will be different.  This year we will add Dad to the list of people we will visit.  He rests in the East Cemetery.

Union Cemetery, Guthrie Center, Iowa

Then Monday rolls around, and we attend our town’s Memorial Day Service.  Those who have fallen during service-time are remembered.  Flags are dedicated for former servicemen who have passed during the year.  A list of names is read out loud – people who served and are no longer with us.  My niece sells poppies.  Mom, sister and I, with the other ladies of the American Legion Auxiliary, serve cookies and drinks after the ceremony.

This year, the Memorial Day service will be different.  My dad served in the Navy.  We will dedicate his flag this year, and his name will be added to list of names read on Memorial Day.

I’m a little depressed about the thing.  It was about this time last year that my dad got sick, and it wasn’t long after and he was gone.  Honestly, I’m not really looking forward to this Memorial Day Weekend —- not at all.  As each year passes, the apparition that is “mortality” becomes less transparent.  It solidifies as I get older – as I am more frequently reminded that we are here and gone within a twinkle of time.

But, this weekend I will trudge on and I will remember those who have gone before me.  The ones I knew in this lifetime, and the ones I never met.

I will remember all of them.


  1. Thank you for sharing, I remember doing this with my parents and siblings also. Said we always got a little history lesson of our past family and friends. Miss doing this. Now my sisters and I go several times a year to decorate Mom & Dad’s & Karen’s grave and tidy up the family members in the area. And I go to Van Meter to put flag on Steve’s grave.

  2. Lump in throat. Bless you.

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