The flowers came from Gram's yard. Real flowers. Homegrown flowers in Mason jars. (Artificial flowers would have sacriligious to her, an abomination.) We brought peonies and lilac boughs that filled the car with the heady perfume of spring and resurrected life.
Grandpa drove, parked the car, and waited. Gram, Mom and my aunt, my sister and I, would visit each grave, the resting place of Gram's brothers, her mother, her father, her first husband. Sometimes things would have changed a bit and there were false starts and discussions of missing landmarks, but eventually each grave would be found.
To visit meant to pull weeds, brush off the flat stone with tender, loving fingers, find a water spigot, and arrange the flowers in a metal vase stuck in the ground by the grave. Bouquets delivered, our little group of the living would hunt for the graves of more distant family, friends, and neighbors.
The saddest and most frightening was the grave of my cousin, Buddy, who died as a toddler and whose death my great aunt never seemed to come to terms with. The marker, half-buried in the grass, was a stone lamb. I was anxious to move on: if Buddy could die and be in a box under the ground, what was different about me?
At each grave, we paused to remark on whether or not so-and-so's family had brought flowers yet and how lovely they were. Gram would remind us who each person was in the family lore and my mom or aunt would sometimes tell a story, proffer a little memory for us to keep. It was a small repertoire of stories and after a few years' repetition, they were firmly a part of us, my sister and me, too.
I haven't returned to the cemetery to leave flowers since I left home nearly 50 years ago, except on the day my grandma was buried there. We are all scattered now, across states and countries. Not a single one lives near, so there is no one to brush the dust from the graves, no flowers to show that the person under the stone is loved and remembered.
I like to think their spirits have followed me here, that I can make the offering of loving memory with a bouquet of hydrangeas and roses on the mantel. I carry them in my heart no matter where I am, as long as I have this memory of tending their graves with Gram on Decoration Day.