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Memorial Day

Traditions as far as families go give us a sense of connection to the past. My family is filled with them but not all are worth writing home about. One I am quite proud of is our commitment to remembering those who came before us. As a child my father always made a big deal about Memorial Day and visiting the graves of family. While I have expanded on the locations visited this is something I continue with my family every year.

When my dad was a boy scout in the 60s his troop was the first to display flags at the Floral Hills cemetery in Raytown, MO. One flag per veteran buried there was hoisted in a display along the roads that crisscross the grounds. At the eye level on each pole was a small plastic plaque that had the name, rank and branch of the person honored. They continued this each year as the number of interred veterans grew.

Eventually the population grew till there simply wasn't enough room for all the flags. At this point they were the largest single display of American flags in the country on Memorial Day. My father was interviewed on Good Morning America and we shared our experience with pride (sadly I can't find this clip). The funeral home in charge of the grounds made the tough choice to begin to retire flags as new veterans were added to the ranks. My grandfather who passed away in 1971 was among the first waves to move from a flying flag along the boulevards to having his name on a memorial near the SE corner of the cemetery. Wanting to honor his father further my dad paid to have a permanent flag fly near the retirement memorial too.

At the ceremony to retire his flag in 1999 my aunt Kathy showed before my father and claimed their father's flag for herself. This drove an even bigger wedge between them and to my knowledge was the last time they every spoke. (Another family tradition is long standing grudges).

In the early 2000s I was really into genealogy and identified additional family member plots in the Kansas City area. As we live on the North side of town we usually begin with Elmwood Cemetery and my Great-Great grandfather William Henry Burr. He was a veteran of WWI and after returning to Kansas City after the war he became a fireman for a railroad until he lost a leg while on duty. My Great-Great Grandma Ophelia Mae Burr whos name is on the headstone too actually divorced him and remarried 4 more times until she was finally laid to rest in 1967 and is buried in Santa Monica California.

Moving south on I-435 we stop by the aforementioned Floral Hills. In addition to my grandfather this is also the final resting place for my grandma Lu, my father and my cousin Linda Lu. Named after the grandma we share Linda Lu died at the young age of 18 months. As explained to me she was apparently sitting in a high chair one day when she lifted her legs up and planted them on the nearby table then pushed off causing the high chair to rock backwards slamming her against the hardwood floor behind her. It always made me cringe to think about how this played out and none of the family alive at the time would give more details. She is located directly North of her grandparents.

My father is in an outdoor mausoleum on the North side of the cemetery and to my frustration is on the top row make it very difficult to reach him. Never one to let distance hold me back I have taken to visiting with a large ladder so I can still secure flowers and say a few words.

A short drive south of there is Green Lawn Cemetery where Ted and Betty Cason my maternal grandparents and my uncle Tim are buried. Grandpa Ted was a paratrooper in the Korean War and would on rare occasions tell me and the other cousins stories of his experiences. We would always sit there wide eyed hanging on his every word. He was also an expert woodworker and had an odd love of pickled pigs feet that would make us want to gag. Grandma Betty was always quiet and a stern disciplinarian.

Following the I-435 loop West we drive down Holmes road a bit to the large commanding mausoleum of Mount Moriah Cemetery, On the bottom level way in the back is a stack of urns. In the top corner a small piece of glass separates us from the ashes of my Great-Grandpa Lloyd Howard Cook. Also a veteran of WWI he split from Lu's mother when she was very young. His family has connections all the way back to the first Governor of Kansas and as a result I have extended family buried all over Eastern KS. Also buried at Mount Moriah is Walter Cronkite, Russell Stover's and a hand full of Medal of Honor winners.

The last cemetery I always visit on Memorial Day is Forest Hill in midtown. It's really two cemeteries in one as the Northern part is consecrated land named Calvary Cemetery for the burial of Catholics. My step Grandfather Robert Anthony is buried here (among MANY notable names from local history). He was always very kind to me and one of the few members of that family to always make me feel welcome. He served in the US Navy, was an avid golfer and for a long time was in charge of the TWA/American Airlines overhaul base in town.

Lot of family stories are shared when we do these rounds on Memorial Day. We leave a flag, origami and flowers at each saying their names and remembering this story. By continuing to visit them they live on and keep us connected to our past (good and bad). I always take my kids along when I do these rounds and am hopeful they will continue this after I am gone adding me to their list of family to visit.

5/29/2021


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