I can still vividly remember the instructions as if they were yesterday.
Several years ago, Mother and I had searched, as we always did each Memorial Day weekend, for my sister Jeanne Marie’s grave marker at Pinecrest Cemetery.
It could have been while we tugged at grass which has nearly covered the little white square with a small plastic window held down by metal.
Jeanne Marie’s name was barely legible as we made sure we had the right grave among the Baby Best, Baby Bergstrom and other infant resting spots in the northeast section of Pinecrest.
As we continued pulling away the grass, Mother said, “When I’m gone, I hope you’ll continue to do this every year.”
This intentional comment, planned for the moment, came from a woman whose mother died near Wallace when Mother was just 3 years old.
As an adult, Mother searched several times, in vain, to find Lillian Halter’s grave, supposedly somewhere near Cataldo.
She had one simple goal: to put a flower on her mother’s grave.
That would never happen as we learned through all the searches the correct cemetery but not the exact location as graves in those days had wooden markers. Apparently, Lillian’s had disappeared over the many decades.
I never forgot my mother’s wish to find that grave, and, for certain, I’ll never forget her wish that flowers be put on the graves.
Many times since, I’ve learned that many other daughters have received such instructions, usually at some opportune moment while accompanying their moms to decorate the graves.
“Dutiful” is the word often used in describing this annual carrying out of the wishes of one’s mother.
For me, the annual chore goes beyond dutiful.
I love walking the yard, thinking about the individuals and trying to find the best array of fresh flowers to arrange and place inside containers. In my case, I always wrap the coffee cans or Costco candy containers in aluminum foil to dress them up a bit.
I also love the interaction with other “dutiful” members of other families who happen to be at the cemetery when I pull up and park near the graves.
Yesterday was such a day, and, once again, I left each site with a sense of somber reflection combined with an exhilaration that comes when happening upon longtime familiar faces, quite often those we rarely see any other time.
Pack River Cemetery is where my parents, Harold and Viriginia Tibbs rest and where other siblings, when they come home from the horse show, will add to the flower show at their grave site.
While placing a bouquet of lilacs and iris next to their grave, I was aware of quiet activity around the cemetery.
My neighbor and former teacher Eva Whitehead, had taken out time from her annual task of placing American flags, was showing a gentleman around the cemetery.
I saw Rose McNall Ropp and some other folks looking over the McNall plot. Rose told me that her parents had purchased 19 plots for the family.
Later, we enjoyed a nice visit. I met her husband and his daughter and family, the Needs who had come up from Southern Idaho for the weekend.
Then, it was on to Pinecrest and our sister's grave. Since that day when Mother gently hinted to me "to carry on," the family has seen that Jeanne Marie has a proper marker for her grave.
These days I can walk right to her plot and did so yesterday. I placed the flowers, filled the container with water and returned to the car to get my camera.
As I began to walk back to the grave, a white car with Southern Idaho plates came up the road. I saw someone wave and then the passenger window came down.
Karen Arndt, classmate and close friend since junior high and the 4-H days, and her husband Jerry were headed to Karen's parents' grave. We visited briefly and made plans for them to come to the Lovestead for a good visit.
I was on a mission to find the Gooby grave, which I'd learned early this week has one of my mother's sketches etched on the stone.
On my walk over that way, some folks wearing sunglasses said hello. Soon I recognized Rich and Judy Schwintek, also classmates and longtime friends. They had driven up from Post Falls to decorate graves.
I never did find the Gooby grave and will definitely go back and search some more. I did see other familiar faces at Pinecrest attending to duties, most likely imposed on them years or decades before.
Often comes the question, "Who will do this when I am gone?"
No answers just yet, and we don't know if the tradition will live on as times change.
Still, I'm glad to take on this responsibility as long as possible because with it comes so many heart-warming and nostalgic intangibles and moments of quiet reflection while adding to the beauty of a cemetery on Memorial Day weekend.
We remember. We reminisce and we know that the spirits of our loved ones who live within the boundaries of those cemeteries appreciate the visits.
Also, whenever I put flowers on my mother's grave, I'm placing them there for her mother too.
Even though her grave has not been found, Lillian Halter is never forgotten.
|Some McNall/Ropp/Needs family members.|
|Jerry and Karen Arndt Kruse from New Meadows, Idaho|
|Rich and Judy Rusk Schwintek from Post Falls|