When my grandson Dmitri was four, and I told him about Decoration Day, he thought I was talking about Christmas. He’d get excited, thinking about all the things we would do: make and hang ornaments, bake and decorate cookies, tickle, tease, and laugh as we celebrated and enjoyed a family tradition.
Decoration Day meant something else to my in-laws. Each year my father-in-law hibernated in his shop until he had dozens of little crosses to which his wife attached wreaths and flowers. The whole month of May was devoted to frequenting stores, gathering plastic carnations and roses, whatever she could find to adorn the wreaths. Early Memorial Day our extended families gathered and caravanned to graves scattered between Picabo and Shoshone where we erected the decorated crosses in remembrance. Along the way we’d stop for coffee, hamburgers, laughter, and tears.
Here in southern Idaho, Decoration Day often brings a parade of campers leaving town early Friday to get the best camping sites in the forest. To many it signifies the first three-day weekend welcoming summer with a promise of crackling campfires, roasted hotdogs, and s’mores.
Maybe Dmitri was right when he said Decoration Day was like Christmas. Camping by a stream or decorating graves, no matter what we do, Memorial Day is the perfect time to remember those we love, and celebrate the people we’ve been fortunate to have in our lives, a perfect time to enjoy a family tradition.
Summer leaves today, which reminds me of a recent trip to the mountains. It was the weekend before Labor Day. My husband and I were enjoying the summer weather at our cabin near Featherville. It was one of those gloriously quiet weekends. Soon enough the roads would be thick with dust and campers eager to celebrate the last summer hurrah with the upcoming three-day weekend. But that weekend the only thing stirring was the Feather River and an occasional chipmunk scampering over logs in the woodpile.
“Let’s go for a ride,” my husband said, wanting to take advantage of the nice weather. So we hopped in the truck and meandered over the back roads following the river.
We passed horses, we passed sheep. Gravel skipped under our tires as deer bounded across the road in front of the truck. We slowed down and Emily sniffed the air while Boo and Riley barked.
“Wow, did you see that big dog,” I taunted my pets. They all wagged their tales.
“Stop.” I pointed to the hillside. “Look at that.” I opened the door and walked over to the shrubs, thick and plump with purple chokecherries.
“I can’t believe it. They’re usually gone by now.” I popped one in my mouth, enjoying the tart fruit. “If we had some bags, I would pick these. They are delicious, just perfect.” I popped one more in my mouth, spit out the pit, and jumped back into the truck.
Farther on down the road, I made my husband stop again. This time I didn’t leave the truck, but peered at the hill beside me.
“Last year’s forest-fire didn’t devour everything,” I said. “Look at the elderberries.”
They were everywhere. Some green, some purple, some powdery white meaning they needed picking soon. I was beyond tempted, immediately imagining my juicer full of fruit, the kettle on the stove humming. We studied the hills for a while and then traveled on, empty-handed.
As we rounded the road back to our cabin we pulled over and stared down at the small pond Fish and Game stock in the spring. No one was angling, and as we watched fish jumped at insects, leaving concentric circles on the water.
“I’ve never seen the pond this low,” my husband said. “Look. You can see clear to the bottom of the dredge.”
I aimed my camera at the abandoned machine, a dredge that years ago chewed up the riverbed, spitting it out into odd-shaped Cairns. Carnage the dredge left behind. From where we stood we could see river-bottom, the place where the dredger finally stopped to rest. It was impressive. It was sad.
“Well,” my husband said as we pulled into our driveway. “Are we getting a bucket and going back for those berries?”
“Naw,” I said, even though I was tempted. “We’ll leave them for all the berry-pickers coming to the hills next weekend.”
I nodded. I’d leave them for someone else to enjoy.
“Okay.” He settled into a chair on the back deck. Enjoying cool drinks, we listened to camp robbers chatter and watched hummingbirds dive-bomb the feeder.
“This is nice,” I said. One simple day filled with summer wonder and all the things we left behind.