As we celebrate this Memorial Day weekend and remember those who died serving in our military, I am remembering how I used to spend my Memorial Day weekends as a kid. Mom and Dad would pile my brother Kevin and me into “The Tank,” the red 4-door 1965 Chevy Bel Air in which I learned to drive (and in which my sister Susan slammed on the brakes on Edgemoor Drive, flinging a very young me forward and banging my forehead on the dashboard – thanks, sis!). We would then drive around south central Kansas visiting graves of departed loved ones.
I remember visiting my brother Kevin’s father’s grave in Augusta. I took it as a matter of course and felt like I knew him, although he died in 1959, before I was born, and was not my father, after all. His name was Clifford Eugene Selvage, and he served in the European theater in World War II. By all accounts he was a wonderful, upstanding man who loved his wife and family. I wish I had pictures of him. I don’t think my brother remembers him at all, because he died shortly before Kevin’s second birthday. Sue remembers him and LOVED him. I don’t know if Kevin thinks much about him. I’m not in contact with Kevin, and I feel that he just doesn’t care about our side of the family. I suppose if Cliff had lived I would not be here today, but his death devastated the family, and he is greatly missed.
We visited my grandmother Beulah’s grave in Walnut Valley Memorial Park, near our home in El Dorado. She was my mother’s mother. I don’t remember her at all, but I do remember a doll she gave me. She died on January 1, 1965. Reportedly she hated my mother and treated her badly, which I will never understand, as my mother was the kindest, nicest person I ever knew. We have a very strange family.
Also on the agenda was the grave of mom’s father, Clinton Mosley, who died in a railroad accident when my mother was 2 1/2. He is buried in Kechi Township Cemetery near Wichita, Kansas. His wife Beulah remarried and had three more children. I have a picture of him, but really don’t know anything about him.
A longer journey took us to Toronto, Kansas, about an hour east of El Dorado, to Toronto Cemetery, where Dad’s first wife and several other relatives are buried. (I have just learned that the hangman at the Nuremberg Trials is buried there…next time I visit I will have to stop by, although his Wikipedia entry makes him appear as a rather unsavory person). A highlight was stopping in Eureka at the Derby Star gas station to buy a cold bottle of pop, as well as the Lo-Mar Drive-In for an ice cream cone.
At all of these visits we placed awful plastic flowers at the graves. I always asked Mom to buy fresh flowers, but she refused. I remember being taken to TG&Y to purchase these monstrosities in advance of our visits. It was the 1960s/70s, after all.
Dad and Mom died in 1983 and 1987, respectively, and I carried on the tradition of visiting their graves while I still lived in Kansas, although I visited much more often than just on Memorial Day. Dad is buried next to his first wife in Toronto because he didn’t know he would remarry and purchased a plot next to hers. Mom is buried next to her father in Kechi. Visiting Dad’s grave is always very depressing because there aren’t many trees and he’s right at the back of the cemetery near a field, and most of his relatives have died (he was born in 1908 during the Teddy Roosevelt administration), so he doesn’t get many visitors. Mom’s cemetery is more pleasant, with lots of trees and singing birds (although Mom was scared of birds after a bird got into our house and flew around – we always joke about the irony of birds walking over her grave). I don’t know if she ever gets any visitors when I’m not around. I’m quite certain that my brother never visits.
My sister Sara died in 2001 and is also buried in the Kechi cemetery. Sue and I helped her husband George look for a plot. We couldn’t find one near Mom (there is one next to her, but her brother-in-law is buried to the adjacent one to that, and we do not own the one next to her), but Sara’s ashes are buried not too far away. Sara was 18 years my senior and a religious conservative, with views diametrically opposed to my own. I feel robbed of the opportunity to get to know her better, but we really didn’t understand each other.
I haven’t been back home since May 2009 (ironically, we left to return to Texas on the day Dr. George Tiller was murdered), and I hope SOMEONE is visiting my family’s graves. I doubt it, though. I would love to go back and see them again.