Each year, before what we knew as Decoration Day became a three day holiday weekend to kickoff the summer season, we picked peonies and put them into reusable vases, sometimes even old jars to take to the cemeteries.

Each year, before what we knew as Decoration Day became a three day holiday weekend to kickoff the summer season, we picked peonies and put them into reusable vases, sometimes even old jars to take to the cemeteries.
We always bought small flags for my grandfather, Otto Sontheimer, and later for my other grandfathers who served.
With kinfolk scattered across multiple cemeteries in my hometown of St. Joseph, Missouri, we made the rounds from Ashland Cemetery to Mount Auburn to Memorial Park to remember our dead.
Sometimes we even made the trek north to Fillmore, a small town centered in the heart of fat farmland where some of my ancestors lived, died and were buried. After moving to Neosho, we didn’t always make the journey in time for Memorial Day, we still always visited the cemeteries when we returned.
Even now, I still do and usually, I visit my Granny first.  I did so in life and the custom continues after death.
In the first years living in Southwest Missouri, I had no graves to decorate on Memorial Day.  After I married, I inherited my husband’s grandparents and other family members.
In 2004 my father-in-law was laid to rest with the other Murphy family members at King Cemetery northwest of Neosho.
And on a cold January day in 2009, my dad was buried at IOOF Cemetery on the eastern edge of town.
My family lived nearby during my high school and college years.  Often I found time to walk the narrow lanes of the old graveyard, always finding a story between the dates and names on the stones.  Over the years, I’ve traveled across the country and I’ve often stopped in a cemetery.  Sometimes I was on the trail of an ancestor, sometimes just caught up in the many stories.
These days, we’re more likely to bring silk flower bouquets to leave in tribute but we always have an American flag for my dad, an Army veteran.  Over the years I’ve adopted other graves as well, usually for someone whose life story caught my fancy and left no direct descendants.
One of these is Howard Speakman, who built a fine brick home in Neosho on what was rumored to be one season’s proceeds from strawberries.  My home and neighborhood are built on what was once Speakman’s Fruit Farm in the early 1900’s.  My novel, A Timely Concerto, is a fictional account based on Howard Speakman’s life but in my story, he had a second chance to live and love he lacked in reality.  It’s available on Amazon.com.
Over the upcoming holiday weekend, I may spend time outdoor time.  I’ll probably cook on the grill or have a family picnic.  Maybe I’ll do both.  But whatever I do, I’ll be making the rounds of remembrance.
And I will also remember that Memorial Day is not just a day to remember loved ones and friends but our military, all the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.
There is nothing more poignant than the unmistakable sound of Taps wafting though the stillness of a cemetery or the honor guard presenting the American flag to the family of a veteran.  I have ancestors who have served dating back to the American Revolution and in every war or conflict since.
Between them, I have someone who served in each branch of the service in wartime and in peace.  When I see the traditional Poppies for sale, Iíll buy one and wear with pride, remembering, and never forgetting.
Among all the food and fun, the sightseeing and shopping, I hope every American takes time to remember our fallen soldiers and to remember all those who are serving today.
God bless America and bless those who have fallen in her service.


Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy of Neosho writes a weekly column.