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In this month’s installment of These Ozarks Hills, Marideth Sisco reflects on the tradition of decorating graves on Memorial Day to honor those we’ve loved and lost.
Marideth Sisco: Earlier this week, like many of you, I made the long drive over to what used to be home to pay my respects to those who’ve gone on before. In my case, to Mount Pleasant Cemetery near Butterfield Memorial Day has always been problematic for me…maybe because I never heard it called anything but Decoration Day until I was grown. And then by the time I was grown, I’d already made several trips to that cemetery on other somber occasions that had other names. I lost both my parents when I was in my early twenties. And by that time, I’d already lost both grandfathers, my Great Aunt Laura who would rock me to sleep and my Great Uncle Tom who taught me how to sing. So, I decided I’d had enough of cemeteries and besides, I didn’t get the whole decorating thing. I didn’t see what there was to celebrate. For a long time, I had nothing to do with the cemetery at Mount Pleasant and I persuaded myself it had nothing to do with me. Well, sometimes a person gets wiser and sometimes they just get old but if they’re lucky they finally learn that the resentment of being abandoned by those you love, if you let it, can turn into gratitude for all the love and knowledge they left behind to sustain you. I didn’t let it. Not for a long time. Then in 1988, a tornado touched down in Butterfield and did tremendous damage, including 1 death. When I heard the news, my thoughts went racing back over the miles and time and for a moment, I was overcome with concern for all the people I knew there. And then I realized every single of those I worried over had been safe for years. They were up on the hill at Mount Pleasant out of harm’s way. Things began to turn around for me then, although it took a few more years and a few more funerals before I finally got comfortable with re-visiting all those ghosts and the memories they brought with them. It took one more death and that one not in the family for me to finally grow up and claim all those memories as my own. When my mother was a child, she became fast friends with a little redheaded girl up the road named Joyhnee, but they spelled it different, so you'd know it wasn't a boy's name. She and Joyhnee stayed friends all through their growing up years, sharing adventures and confidences, my mother's of becoming a novelist, and Joyhnee's of traveling the world. They vowed that at the end of their adventures, they would meet back in Butterfield, and grow old together. Well, my mother married this handsome boy who joined the Navy at the start of the war, and she spent those years waiting for him to come home from traveling the world, while her stories went untold. Joyhnee joined the Army Nursing Corps and was sent to London, where she worked at an Army hospital all through the Blitz and never got to go anywhere. When the war was over, she took a job in California, got married, and had five kids. She and my mother wrote letters back and forth, but hardly saw each other at all. They were reunited, finally, in the most poignant of circumstances, after my father died and my mother came back to California with me, to renew some of those old friendships. But she was ill, and didn't know the cause, and Joyhnee, who was the head nurse at the hospital by now, took her in for an exam. It was left to Joyhnee to tell her, and me, that she was dying. That was more than 40 years ago. Much later, when her children were grown and her husband had passed, Joyhnee came back to Butterfield to stay. And when I went to visit her, shortly before she died, she told me that for all those years, whenever she came home to visit, she had come to Mt. Pleasant, and left a single yellow rose, the symbol of joy and friendship, on my mother's grave. She explained it by saying simply, "I loved her. You have to honor that. It's all there is."So I have taken a lesson from Joyhnee. I'm new at the custom of decorating graves. But now when I go to Mt. Pleasant to visit those I loved, I bring roses, pink ones, for love and gratitude. One for my mother, one each for all the others, and one for Joyhnee, who showed me how to come home. This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills. Thanks for listening.