Memorial Day is definitely not what it used to be. I have mentioned before how I was taught Memorial Day was spent as a day of respect to the dead. My mother would lovingly put together flowers in a painted bucket to take to the graves. These flowers usually came from the farm we lived on and always turned out very pretty. In fact, that was what usually showed up on the graves all over the cemeteries that we visited.
This was before the commercialization of even the Memorial Day holiday. Now, everyone is instructed to throw a big party and enjoy a long weekend.
Memorial Day was definitely not a day about self when we grew up. It was spent as a day of meeting and greeting of family members and decorating beloved ones’ graves. Through this tradition, we met people who were our cousins, and we could actually know them and greet them on the streets. We learned much of our heritage from doing this. What are we teaching our young people today? Half of them couldn’t recognize their first cousins if they were to meet them, let alone second or third cousins, and to actually know their name or what side of the family they were akin to is a joke. In other words, they are strangers to them.
Maybe it is just me, but I have always wanted to know my history. I spent one day with my mother to have her tell me every last detail of my birth. It is very exciting, and I learned so much and am actually lucky to be alive today. This is something I would never have learned without asking her. I would suggest to the younger generation to ask questions of the oldest members they know in their family. This is one of my projects this week.
I had a second cousin who turned 90 this year, and I want to know more about her. I had planned to go to her birthday celebration and kept it on my refrigerator as a reminder, and believe it or not I remembered it at 5 p.m. the day of the celebration. I felt really badly about that.
Her name is Della Oaks. She was my daddy’s first cousin and is sister to Nelson Willoughby. I know more about Nelson than her, but I would like to learn more about their growing up years. I just always found her to be attractive and sweet. I think their daddy was killed in one of the wars. I have to tell you I have just talked to Della Oaks on the phone, and she was very gracious about my asking to meet with her. She has fallen and was on her way to the doctor’s office, but a meeting is going to happen. I am so excited about this. I hope her fall gets better soon.
While on my way this past weekend to my Mom and Dad’s grave at the Machpelah Cemetery in Mount Sterling, my sister-in-law and I were discussing the lack of children at the cemetery. She had informed me she had taken my great-nephew, Jackson Cort Willloughby, who now lives in Ohio, to visit the gravesite of the man he was named after, his great-grandfather. My grandfather’s name was Cort Willoughby, his name lives on through my brother Raymond Cort, my nephew Eugene Cort, and now his son is named Jackson Cort. I was so happy Teresa had taken the initiative to do that. Now he knows the history of his name and feels more of a kinship to the man where his name actually began.
Before I left the cemetery I had to give my Dad a kiss on his tombstone as I watched my mother do so many times before, and then I bent to kiss her tombstone. You see, I couldn’t leave without doing this any more than she could when she bade farewell to Daddy on leaving the cemetery. Of course, I always walk over to visit Aunt Bea and Uncle Ray, Aunt Elsie and Uncle Clarence and stop by to see Mammie and Papa’s gravesites, and visit a few members I used to go to church with. In the Winchester cemetery, I pretty much do the same thing.
For my own family, I know that my Papa was a farmer and had the exact color of red hair my daughter and grandson now possess. Of course, their red hair could have come from two other sides with grandparents of red hair also. Since their hair is the same color and they have the brown eyes, I like to think it originated from my side. My daughter has been told all her life from beauticians that you can not get this color of red from a bottle. It is beautiful, even her daddy, when she was born said, “Isn’t that the prettiest color of red hair you ever saw.”
I know my Papa got to see me one time before he died. I was born in July and he died in August. I know that I was the last newborn grandbaby he held in his arms as he lay in his bed dying from a heat stroke. I always heard of his fairness to all the grandchildren. The home I grew up in down the lane was the home my grandfather began, and the land I played and learned to work hard on was the result of my grandfather’s toils. I hope he would be proud that I appreciated the works of his labors. Teach your children their heritage — who knows, someday they may write about it.