Today we are taking flowers up to the Espy section of the cemetery in preparation for tomorrow’s Memorial Day observances. For as long as anyone can remember, this is the weekend that Oysterville people spend time cleaning up their family plots – sweeping away pine needles and scrubbing moss from tombstones and placing flowers on the graves of loved ones.
For us, that takes a lot of flowers. There are far more people below ground in the Espy family than there are walking around above it. And, since Nyel and I are the only family members who live full-time in Oysterville, it falls to us to gather the flowers, put them in water and lug them up to the cemetery. It’s a big job but, somehow, I look forward to it each year.
When I was a child, we called it “Decoration Day” and, even though we knew it was a day set aside for remembering those who had died in the service of our country, we decorated all our family graves. Never mind that we had no one who fit the proper category until my mother’s first cousin, Cecil Jefferson Espy, Jr. died in a Japanese prison camp in 1945. After that, we decorated all the family graves “in Cecil’s” honor, which is still the case though there is no gravestone in our cemetery plot for him.
It probably stands to reason that my first clear memory of Decoration Day is of going up to the cemetery in 1948 with my mother and my grandmother. I was twelve and my mother and I were spending the year in Oysterville while my dad sold our house in California and began a new career. It was the only year I was here in May until I moved here permanently thirty years later.
By then, we were calling it “Memorial Day” and it was no longer observed on May 30th but was celebrated on the last Monday of May, no matter what the date. Which was fine with me. My son had been born was born on May 30, 1956 so, from the time he was twelve, he’s had that date in May all to himself, at least in our family.
Nevertheless, I’ve always felt badly that Memorial Day and all the rest of our federally recognized “official holidays” have been changed to Mondays to become part of a three-day weekend. The best spin I can put on it is that Congress and President Lyndon Johnson had good intentions and didn’t realize that those holidays would morph into three-day vacations and shopping extravaganzas, ultimately detracting from the purpose of the day.
Here in Oysterville, the cemetery and the town are also awash with American flags. The VFW places a small flag on the grave of each person who served in the armed services, whether or not they died in the line of duty. I’m not sure why that is. I believe it is Veteran’s Day on November 11th that is set aside for all those who served, and Memorial Day commemorates those who died while in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle.
There are larger flags all over town, too. The biggest ones are part of Bradley’s flag collection – a huge one on the Andrews Garage and a very large one with 45 stars on the front of his house. Next door to us, a real estate company has put flags all along fence line. The flags at the Oysterville Church are flying and there are flags in the windows at the store. Oysterville is definitely all decked out for Memorial Day.