Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Backmasking-instinctive tendency to see someone as you knew them in their youth

our family still participates in the antiquated tradition of decorating graves.
i say antiquated because every time i've mentioned it to someone
i receive a bewildered slightly creeped out look
none of them seem to know what im talking about.
we're a little old fashioned i suppose.
but for me its always been the norm.
some of my earliest memories are of us walking through the graveyards
my parents reading out the names on the stones and saying this is your
grandfather and grandmother, that is your great-great grandparents,
your cousin, your uncle, your baby aunt...
its an annual thing. typically falling around the time of memorial day.
the graveyards in which our loved ones are buried in have what they call decoration.
im told its short for decoration day, which is the former name for memorial day.
traditionally the day was meant as a time to honor fallen soldiers
by decorating their graves with flowers, flags and such.
but decoration honors all who have gone before us.
there are two primary graveyards that we visit.
one for my fathers side of the family and one for my mothers.
not all of our family members are buried in theses places but most of them are.
about a month before the day we start collecting artificial flowers 
alot of thought and time is spent building our collection
make sure we have enough boy flowers
lets get something fun like a pinwheel for the kids
and dont forget the yellow ones! grandma sure did love her yellow roses."

the event is usually followed by a BIG family barbeque
at my aunt and uncles house in the country.
so many relatives! so many hellos and hugs and a great sea of folding chairs
"do i really know all of these people?"
their "summer house" is located about half-way between the two cemeteries
and within walking distance of the creek where i learned to swim.
where my brother and i spent our summer hours chasing crawdads
and building moats around my aunts feet.
at night the grown-ups would sit in the soft glow of the porch light
talking, drinking coffee eating my aunts sugar-cinnamon pound cake.
i can still hear their sounds,
the symphony of crickets and frogs
the cidicas (katie-dids as they called them)
the distant train whistling in the wind
if my uncle's brother came over there was sure to be music 
the soft melodic rumble of my uncles' voices
guitars and mandolins picked
cousin eddie would play the saxophone if you asked him just right.
sometimes there were tears but mostly there was laughter.
and my aunts trademark laughter once it started it took forever to wind down!
they'd tell the same stories over and over
every once and a great while they'd recall another one to add to the playlist
always about their youth and our deceased relatives
remembering the good ole' days.
the whole atmosphere just made you feel so connected almost as though
everyone you were related to was there with you that you were all one.
i slept well on those nights.
in recent years work and other obligations have kept me from attending decoration.
the last year i went was shortly after my aunt died.
the family was still there.
we still walked the rows of graves.
when we reached hers, my father cried.
an event that i can count the number of times
i've witnessed in my life on one hand.
he said something that struck me as odd at the time
but is much more crystal now.
he said

"i wish i hadnt seen her at the funeral, she didnt look like that"

to him she never looked a day older that 17
even though she was well into her 70s when she passed.
to my father she had been and will always be
his ever doting, beautiful, zealous, big sister full of life and love.


  1. Are you familiar with El Dia de los Muertos or the Day of the Dead celebrated by Mexicans? On that day, Nov. 2, loved ones graves are decorated with things that they loved in life, especially food. Candles are lit and it is a happy event celebrating that person's life. I love the idea, especially the positive thoughts, like your post.

    1. yes i think the day of the dead is a beautiful tradition.
      i suppose this is more or less my american version.

  2. Well, you aren't alone in your 'decoration' tradition.... my father's side had the yearly family reunion in a lodge/activity hall that sat on a hill right above the cemetery where the family ancestors were buried... needless to say, the idea of family reunions has always been synonymous with funerals/cemeteries in my mind....

    With our innocent experiences as children, is it any wonder we grew into twisted adults??? :-/

  3. This is beautiful.

    My family has always practiced decorating graves, especially my grandmother. It is an old custom, but here in the South, old customs seem to cling to the very air!