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Have We Forgotten Our Dead?

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My mom, my son M, and I visited three cemeteries the Monday prior to Memorial Day, to decorate family members graves with flowers.  Two of the three cemeteries was very unsatisfactory.

The first one, St. Joseph’s Catholic cemetery in Adrian, Michigan, had their drive blocked with orange construction cones.  It seemed they had decided that a week before Memorial Day was the optimal time to put fresh tar in the cracks of the paved drive.

Really?  How does that make sense?  To block people out of the cemetery at the one time of year when they are guaranteed to want to visit?!

As I didn’t want to get fresh tar on my car (the hail damage is enough to give it character), my mom and I made alternate arrangements to come back on Wednesday.  Surely it would be open again by then, right?

Next we visited Pleasant View cemetery in Blissfield, Michigan, where my dad is buried.  There was no sign of the flags that they always put on the graves of veterans.  The place had not even been mowed.  There were branches and stray bits of liter everywhere.

My mom is very particular about millions of things in this world.  Most of which I DO NOT and WILL NOT ever understand.  But on one thing I do agree with her, and that is that you should place your flowers at the cemetery after they have mowed.  Otherwise, your artificial flowers get dirt and grass thrown all up in them and look terrible.  But, having no other options, we placed our flowers at that time.  Next to my dad’s tombstone is a concrete marker in the shape of a lamb for his sister, who was born and died before he was ever born.  It probably isn’t made out of very quality materials to begin with, and it has been there approaching 100 years.  But we could plainly see where the riding lawn mower clips it when it goes between the stones.

You can see where I pushed away the dirt with my foot to expose the original resting position of the lamb.

You can see where I pushed away the dirt with my foot to expose the original resting position of the lamb.


These stones are the only thing left to mark these people’s lives (in this instance, of a deceased baby who never even got to live her life), and you have to carelessly push them over on their foundations?

When my mom and I returned to the St. Joseph’s Catholic cemetery on Wednesday, we witnessed the same thing.  The place had not yet been mowed.  The tombstones on the ends had been moved on their foundations, from previous passes with the mower.  I tried to push one back into position, unsuccessfully, and almost gave myself a hernia.

Oh, and FYI, there were STILL cones blocking the entrance to St. Joseph’s.  It appeared as if they had seal-coated the drive as well.  I drove around the cones.  (It had already rained the night before.  Any of the coating that was going to come off would have already been washed off.)

Aside from the shotty groundskeeping, I also noticed that WE, as surviving family members as a whole, are not decorating.  The entire section my dad is located in was almost devoid of flowers.  Everyone in his section generally died in 1980 or before.

Now, looking across the cemetery to the newer section, it did appear to be very decorated.  I guess all the people in the ground in the new section are the ones who used to decorate the tombstones in the old section.

How sad is that?

Even sadder is that they never told their children that someone had to keep decorating the grandmas’ and grandpas’ when they themselves had moved on.

Decorating gravestones is very similar to how I feel about sending greeting cards.  I know that it is an extra expense, but we lose a little of our humanity when we decide it is not worth our time and bother anymore.  A website exists called Find-A-Grave.  It is a great resource for genealogists.  But, you can also leave “virutal flowers” for people.  I have an issue with the “social media-ization” of the dead.


I designed the Riga Township Flag

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You’ve probably never heard of Riga, Michigan (population 1,439). I wouldn’t have expected you too. But that is where my Dad lived when he married my mom. She moved in to the old family farmhouse with him. That’s where they lived when he died. That’s where she lived when I was born. And that is where I lived for the first eight years of my life.

Riga is…small. There is one blinker light where Riga Hwy hits the main road, US223. No other traffic lights. Oh sure, sometimes the train comes through and the railroad flashers get stuck on, so it gives that illusion. There used to be a church for every bar in town. Then one of the two bars burned down. The post office and the bank were on the same side of the road, with only a few houses between them. As a kid, I could never remember which was which.

Riga is all about agriculture. So in the 90’s when some idiot decided that former swampland would be a great place to build a low-level nuclear waste dump, everyone banded together to stop it. They sold burn barrels painted with the “No Nuke Dump” slogan. High schoolers came into middle school classrooms to give the students a list of all the local, state, and federal politicians and their addresses. Being the good little letter-writing middle schooler that I was, I wrote letters to them all to protect my hometown. My mother always told me not to write to the President, for fear the Secret Service would show up on our doorstep. I wrote to George Bush anyway. The nuke dump proposal was chased the Hell out of town:)

So, in 1993, in the Blissfield Advance Newspaper, I saw an ad for a contest. Riga was going to have a Sesquicentennial Celebration. They were having a “design a Riga Township flag contest”. Something instantly clicked in me, that this was something I had to do (I have had those moments now and then throughout my life). So, I got a piece of poster board at the local pharmacy within walking distance, cut it to the required size, and chose colored pencils as my medium of choice. I did a rough draft first (which I almost NEVER do). I only did one rough draft design and that is what I used for the final design. When I think of Riga, I think of farmers, barns, livestock, people waving hello. I worked all that into my design. I sort of ripped off the United States flag, replacing the field of stars with an actual field. The house on the flag slightly resembles my old house. It was required to say “1843”.

I finished my masterpiece and turned it in at one of the listed locations, the bank within walking distance. I didn’t entirely trust the bank employees to turn it in to the proper authorities. And they probably all unrolled it and laughed at it.

The original drawing was in color.

I would have gone to the judging, but that night I had an academic awards ceremony at school. (That year I cleaned up.) So imagine how nice it was to come home and hear on the answering machine that I had won the flag design contest and the first prize of a $75 savings bond. I learned that they were going to make a physical version of my flag, but that they would cost like $50 each to purchase. Kind of steep for a seventeen year old with no job. When they gave me my savings bond at the July 4th Sesquicentennial Celebration, they gave me one of my flags for free. I found out they had other contests, like “design a postmark”. The same woman won all of those contests, but her flag came in second to mine. Somehow that made it a sweeter victory.

Now my flag hangs in my guest bedroom. (And, I assume, at the Riga Municipal Building.) It might make me a giant dork, but I think it is sort of cool to have designed a township flag. Maybe generations from now the people of Riga will look at their flag and wonder about who designed it. Or maybe they will have a new contest to replace it.

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