Monday, May 31, 2010

Going green on the cemetery circuit

A fresh flower rather than fake at the tombstone of my great-great-grandfather, Jacob Myers, at Salem Cemetery late Sunday.

As the charter member of a newly formed chapter of FFA (Fake Flowers Anonymous, not Future Farmers of America), Sunday was a tough day.

I was OK until late afternoon when I got to Columbia; late afternoon because I wanted to take a picture of Nathan Love’s brand new Confederate States of America tombstone and the sun needed to be in the right place for that. As often happens, my cousin, Esther Belle, had gotten there before me.

Bright tufts already were in place before the tombstones of all our joint Clair and Miller kinfolk and I have to tell you that when I saw that I wanted an armful of polyester posies so bad I could almost feel their vinyl-clad wire stems clutched in my hands.

Instead, I had an armful of peonies, cut fresh Sunday morning in my own flower bed that had already done double duty as altar flowers in the morning. Golly, I felt self-righteous about that --- and it was self-righteousness that saw me through as I walked from place to place in the cemetery depositing one stem each at the 15 graves that I usually tend. Who needs serenity when you’ve got self-congratulation?

Late Friday, I’d taken two planters from Ellis Greenhouse out to Salem, one to deposit in front of my parents’ tombstone; the other, before the tombstone that marks the graves of my Myers grandparents and Aunt Flora. After getting home from Columbia Sunday evening, I drove out there to water the planters (the down-side of fresh flowers) and plucked fresh peonies from the plant that has overtaken my grandparents’ stone to deposit at the graves of my great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents.

That compulsion still was operating in the background, however, and had Ben Franklin been open I’m not so sure that I wouldn’t have driven back to town as fast as I could to invest in a few 99-cent sprays.

I still have mixed feelings about going green on the Memorial Day cemetery circuit. I’ve scattered a lot of fake flowers over the years.

On the one hand, I think it’s cool to visit the graves of those who have been here before us and leave tokens behind. So I don’t want to discourage that --- or to sound disapproving at the expense of those who do not have a ready supply of fresh flowers in their gardens.

On the other hand, fake flowers do not age well --- especially when left to weather for years as sometimes happens in rural cemeteries. They also get tangled in lawnmowers and deter the weed-whackers used to trim. And there’s no way to recycle them, so off to the landfill they go in the end.

But now on the edge of second childhood I’m content to have returned to the ways of my first childhood, when Hi-C juice cans weighted with gravel and water were filled with iris and peonies on Memorial Day morning, packed in cardboard boxes and taken to the same cemeteries visited Sunday. After a few days, the wilted flowers and the cans were removed.

I’m sure that before long I’ll get tired of driving out to Salem every other day to water the planters there and they will come home. But that doesn’t really matter. It’s not the flowers that count, after all, but the memories and the lessons all those good folks taught in living and dying.

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