Greeting Cards and Decoration Day

May 12, 2010

Picture from the web.

I always tear up when I browse the greeting card aisles.   It brings back memories of relatives who are no longer alive.    No grandmas and grandpas, no mom or dad to remember with a card on special occasions.   As one grows older there are less relatives from previous generations to whom we can send a card.    However, we can “pay it forward.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson , in his essay "Compensation", wrote: "In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody."  So since I have had grandchildren, I send a Mother’s Day card/gift to their mothers and on Father’s Day to their fathers.   I send cards to my children, their spouses, and my grandchildren on special occasions.

Cynics will say that holidays are created so that greeting card companies can make money.   I will agree that many of the newer special days may have been created for that purpose.   However, traditional days such as birthdays, Mother’s and Father’s Day, anniversaries, births, deaths, etc. are just special times to say nice things to our friends and family that we might not get around to saying if there were not a special day set aside for it.  

Another tradition that I like to honor is Memorial Day which was designated as a time to honor the fallen in service to our nation.   My grandmother called it Decoration Day.  She always picked her pink peonies (which she pronounced “pinies”), put them in canning jars, and she, my mother, and we kids would drive to the cemetery a couple of miles down the road to place them on the graves of her husband (my mother’s father), her parents, and other friends and relatives.   

Her husband had died young and left her with two little girls ages seven and four.    The four-year-old was my mother.    She had planted a pink peony bush by his gravestone.    I was saddened when a couple of years ago I visited the grave and someone had sprayed chemicals on it and killed it.   I hope when I go back this year it has recovered.  

Yes, I like to make the pilgrimage to New Bethel Cemetery in southern Indiana about a hundred miles south of Indianapolis near the time of Decoration Day every year to place flowers on the graves of my ancestors.   Buried in that cemetery are my parents, both sets of grandparents, and three sets of great-grandparents plus several other relatives.    It is a trip down memory lane to walk among the headstones and read the names.   It brings back memories of the congregation and neighbors at New Bethel EUB church which used to be across the road from the cemetery.  

As a secular humanist, I don’t worship my ancestors as some religions do. I don’t think they are looking down on me from heaven and know if I am remembering them or not.    However, it is a time to reflect on life and the memories of those who have influenced me.    It is a time to think of debts owed and gratitude felt.   It is a reminder   to “pay it forward” in the present and future.