Last Memorial Day weekend had so many emotions – all built on relationships. The relationships of the men and women who died while serving in the U.S military was certainly at the forefront. Among those who served in my family included but not limited to my grandfather Leonard and my uncle Don. As they served they also did make it home. The others who didn’t make it home were at top of mind as I visited the Jasper, Minnesota Cemetery on Monday.
Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day, originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. I remember growing up and visiting several cemeteries on usually rainy and gloomy Memorial Days. My mom and dad would always take my Grandma Ella to “visit” friends at various cemeteries in just Sioux Falls.
It is a solemn holiday and I did get a sense of respecting those buried at Woodlawn, Mt. Pleasant, Hills of Rest Memorial Park and St. Michaels, all cemeteries in Sioux Falls, as a youngster.
Then Monday. My second visit to my father’s unmarked grave in the Jasper Cemetery. He passed away in 2008 on my sister’s birthday and best friend’s birthday. He was in awful health, had a pacemaker and suffered from emphysema and congestive heart failure at 70 years old.
As I searched for the Peterson name at the southwestern Minnesota grave site, I recognized vaguely, names of others from town. Then I saw, my grandpa, grandma, my aunt and uncle and a cousin. It hit me hard, they are all gone. It amazed me how long each had been gone. Seemed like yesterday. My grandma Ella’s passing I remember the clearest as she passed away in the spring of my sophomore year in high school. She’s been gone 30 years.
My dad is buried next to his mom Ella. I believe I don’t need to be at a burial site to talk or pray with and for my dad, but I did break into prayer with my wife. I began to cry before I completed, “Heavenly Father.” Part of my tears were tears of missing the healthy days of my dad and the activities we shared. No, it wasn’t fishing, it wasn’t hunting. When he was his healthiest, he was coaching me through age 15 in baseball and bowling. Part of my tears was for my dad. He was very lonely and that was for various reasons and circumstances. But my dad Stan, when he was at his healthiest could make a lonely person feel loved, could make them laugh and forget their pains and forget their troubles. He was at his finest bringing smiles to people’s faces and hearts when he was having coffee or breakfast.
My dad never passed up a chance with a waitress or waiter to talk with them and really find out how they were doing. They knew him by name, they knew him as Stanley. You could predict what he would order and you could predict that the waiter or waitress would laugh with and at him before they went to the kitchen with his order.
My son Brandon, who is 22 years-old and living in Minneapolis, is convinced that the one trait he gets from me is that he always loves up on the wait staff at a cafe or college coffee shop. He said he always wants them to laugh and wants to know how they are really doing. I saw him do it to a guy and girl at a hamburger shop in Stillwater, Minn. last summer.
As I encouraged my son with a “well done”, I also corrected him and said we got that from his grandpa Stan.
Loving God — loving people. We really can leave a legacy that is passed on to the next generation. As I saw the cemetery on Memorial Day, I wondered what the other legacy stories were buried in family histories.