Letter: Where have all the flowers gone?
Editor of the Reformer,
That's the opening line of a popular anti-war song I first heard back in the 60s, written by Pete Seeger and Joe Hickerson. Over a series of verses, the answers are that young girls picked them, and they went to young men who became soldiers, who died and went to graveyards, and the graveyards grew flowers. And so the circle of endless war, which is the history of humans on this planet.
I've always been fascinated by graveyards and cemeteries, probably because my family has been in this part of Vermont so long that practically every cemetery in the area holds a few ancestors. When I was a child, it was routine to stop at some out-of-the-way small family plot on a back road where some member of my kin were buried, back to before the Revolutionary War. I had great aunts who informed me that it was the job of the women in the family to take care of the stones, and so, every spring before Memorial Day, I would find myself picking up winter debris and planting flowers next to stones carved with the names of my predecessors.
I still visit a dozen graveyards each spring to spruce things up. Which brings to mind the verse of that song which asks, where have all the graveyards gone? So many of them are neglected these days. Families move away, children don't want to think about parents dying, so they never ask where Grandma was buried any more. More people are cremated and the ashes sprinkled in the garden, that the idea of a stone marker seems to have gone out of fashion. They're expensive, and young people just don't have the time to travel back to the home county to take care of the gravestones. Memories fade, graves are forgotten. Grass and trees grow and graveyards fall into disrepair, or are lost in the woods of time.
Perhaps, in this time of pandemics and facing up to our own mortality, it's time to ask ourselves where have all the graveyards gone. Where was Grandma buried? Where's Grandpa's family stone? It's easy to find on the internet these days; town clerks and historical societies keep wonderful records of where everyone in Vermont is buried.
If you don't have family in the area, how about you visit your local cemetery this Memorial Day, to walk among the stones and read the epitaphs of the people who carved your town out of the wilderness, and fought in those endless wars so that this country could be free and could be your home.
And bring flowers.
South Newfane, May 17
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