As a youth, my parents and I visited the graves of my fathers parents and grandparents to clear the weeds from them in the week before Memorial Day each year. Buried in the same plot were my father’s two baby sisters, two uncles and an aunt.
The cemetery soil should best be described as a granite sandbar that existed in the ancient Lake Bonneville. The mountain immediately to the north is solid granite and obviously the large granules of granite in cemetery hill came from that source. They are interspersed with silt from the softer stone in the mountain to the east.
Clearing the weeds was not an easy task. The soil was typically dry and about as hard as cement.
Dad pushed a hand garden cultivator and I wielded a garden hoe. Even though the blades had been sharpened before we left home, within minutes they were dull. Dad’s muscle negated the loss of the blade edge with ever increasing force and sweat.
Mom raked the weeds from the broken soil while I hurried ahead of him trying to break the soil enough for Dad to maintain the cutting momentum.
I wasn’t successful for very long. Young arms swinging a hoe could not keep up with the two cultivator cutting blades below the surface of the soil for long.
Even though Dad would tell me to work faster, I secretly think he was happy for the short waiting breaks after the first half-hour of hard labor.
As soon as the top five inches of the soil was cut, he would take the rake from Mom and I’d use the old one with the short handle. Soon the soil was weed free and raked into rectangular humps over the burial location of each person in the plot.
Mom always treated us to cold soda pop and store bought cookies when the job was done. The treats were luxuries that were rarely found in our home during the rest of the year.
The cookies were great in their drizzled chocolate and nut chip covered glory. They weren’t better than anything Mom cooked, because she was a terrific cook, but they tasted great. They were store bought you see.
The best part of the evening was about to start….
Sitting in the shade on the short retaining wall around the plot, Dad would tell me stories about the lives of our ancestors who were buried around us until the evening shadows were long. I’d heard them in the same setting all of my life, but as I grew older, I’d think to ask questions. New insights, additional color and texture would emerge in the telling. Sometimes this would lead to a new story that had slipped his mind previously.
I doubt that I would have heard all of them especially in depth if it weren’t for that setting. When you sit by an ancestors tombstone and look down at the farms where they lived and are surrounded by the mountains that had such integral relationship in their lives and activities, a lifetime of memories surface with every glance at the scenery.
I’ve always been grateful for the story telling sessions and have passed the stories on to our children and grandchildren.