As a child our family would gather at my grandmother’s home on Memorial Day. She would prepare a huge dinner, we would all make the trip to the Boatman Cemetery, have a picnic, and visit the graves of our departed relatives. Sound morbid? Not at all, in fact it was a time of joy and learning.
It was a time of joy as I played with all my cousins and ate lots of good home cooking.
It was a time of learning because during those visits to the Boatman Cemetery I heard the stories about how my great, great, grandmother had come to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears. I learned the details of how my grandfather had approached my great grandfather and asked to marry my grandmother. I heard how during the flu epidemic of 1919 when my grandfather came down with the flu at the farm and my great grandfather rode a horse to town to get the doctor and when he arrived in town, the doctor put him to bed because he also had the flu. They both died a few days later.
I heard the story of how my great grandfather had traveled to Ft. Smith on horseback to apply to become a naturalized Cherokee citizen and that it also required the Cherokee Tribal Council approval.
I learned how my uncle had been captured in the Philippines during WW II, survived the “Death March,” was taken to Japan to work in the factories as a “slave,” survived that, and then died of pneumonia on the ship returning home after the war. I learned how my own father had died in a car train wreck just twenty days before I was born.
I learned that honor is more than just a word, it is an attitude of respect – and yes – even awe!
On this Memorial weekend, most of us will go to the lake, or the shore, or maybe to a National Park – but will we take the time to tell the stories of the history of our families? I hope so. That would be honoring to our ancestors and we would all be a little better for it.