“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” — Proverbs 22:6
On this weekend when we pause to reflect on those who went before us, especially those who have served in America’s armed forces, here’s the story of how one couple not only remembered, but taught their children to remember, those who can now only speak to us through memories, keepsakes, and gravestones.
It begins back in the 1950s, not all that long after World War II, when the soil on all the graves of the war dead had been turned only a few years earlier.
Terry McCurdy was seven years old growing up in Pocatello. Memorial Day was coming up — a great day because it was a school holiday. Playgrounds and adventures awaited. But Mother and Dad had a different idea.
Mother — Terry never calls her anything but “Mother” — didn’t just have a garden, she raised flowers. Lilacs were her specialty, and by late May they were in full bloom.
So one day Mother starts loading fresh cut lilacs and other flowers into empty canning jars and small juice cans. About 20 of them, all carefully moved out to the trunk of the family car.
This is when Mother and Dad broke the news.
“We’re going to drive around to cemeteries, and put these flowers on the graves of our family who have passed on. Not all of them were in the military, but a lot of them were. We’re going to honor and remember them all today.”
Well, that may not sound like a great time for a 7-year-old boy, but, on the other hand, how long could a trip to the local cemetery take? There’d be plenty of time to play later.
The trip took all day.
The first stop was the Pocatello Cemetery. Then up Highway 91 to Blackfoot. Then a little bit further to Firth.
Next stop, the cemetery in Idaho Falls. The day was passing.
The stops were not hurried affairs. As the family, four boys and a girl, decorated each grave, Mother and Dad told stories about those resting beneath the stones. Many were veterans, but they were more than veterans. There was the uncle Terry used to fish with. There were many others Terry didn’t know, but whom he came to know through his parents’ gentle memories.
Then it was back in the car. From Idaho Falls they drove past Rigby to the graveyard on the hill with a view of the valley in Annis. The last stop was Rexburg, 80 miles north of Pocatello, and all of it surface roads. Interstate 15 was still a few years away.
In the end it took the entire day to visit those five cemeteries. It took all day the next year, too. But by then it was a family tradition, and something to look forward to, even though the roads were slow and dusty as the farmers finished planting their potatoes.
In time, there was a freeway. In time, cars had air conditioning. In time, Terry, who had been making these Memorial Day runs for 10 years now, admits he got a little tired of it, now that he was closer to the end of his teenage years than the beginning.
But now, all these years later, he remembers.
He remembers how good it was to be in the car with his sister and three brothers, and with Mother and Dad. He remembers hearing the same old war stories year after year, until he had them all memorized.
Which, by the way, made it a lot easier when he started taking his own kids for Memorial Day graveyard visits.
Terry admits he didn’t do it as often as his parents did. For one thing, he moved to Twin Falls, so the family graves were further away. But he did it several times. It was always great.
I asked Terry what he took from his childhood visits to all those graveyards.
This is what he told me, word for word: “Family is important, whether they’re living or dead. That’s what stuck. That’s what it’s all about.”
Chris Huston lives in southern Idaho and has enjoyed a 30-year career in journalism. Connect with Chris at www.chrishuston-modernlife.com.