“The rest of the chores can wait. We need to get going.” Dad said.
With a bit of a rush, and a little bit of resentment, we went to work finishing milking, letting the cows out onto the fresh green pastures where they seemed to trot with a little more spring in their step. We rushed through cleaning up the milking equipment, then headed into the house.
No shower this morning, just a quick change of clothes and a often times a light jacket.
Yup, the first unofficial day of summer, Memorial Day, and while our classmates were enjoying a few extra hours of sleep and maybe a day at the lake, we were rushing through chores, changing clothes, and rushing to the car much as we would on any school day.
Except we would have to come home, have breakfast, and do more chores when we were done.
“Come on kids!” Mom would encourage us, “We’ll eat when we get home. We want to go to communion.”
We were going to the Memorial Day Mass out at the cemetery.
St. Mike’s cemetery on the south side of Mahnomen was always looking its finest. The rows of stone headstones surrounded by sprays of flowers, crosses, and floral wreaths. The veterans graves were all marked with little flags, set in metal holders, fluttering in the breeze. The grass was neatly trimmed, the planters all held pansies and geraniums. The large white cross at the center usually glistened in the early summer sunshine.
We would park the car and walk as a family to the little table set up under the shadow of the cross where the good father, the local priest, would be setting up his make shift alter.
There, we would celebrate the Mass, as father would tell us, in this extension of the church, on this hallowed ground. Our faith told us that our family and friends were not gone forever, but instead went on before us. They were still members of the same faith, the same church, the same family.
Looking around, usually, we were the youngest people there…only at that point, it wasn’t the resentment as we rushed through chores, thinking of our friends at home in their beds, but instead, it was a privilege to be here with our folks, to be here with our community – the faces and names of the elders of our community. We were the few, the happy few.
What a great way to start summer.
After the Mass, we would chat a bit with friends and neighbors, then make our way through the headstones, listening to stories that Mom and Dad told of friends, neighbors, and relatives, all lying in rest from their earthly toil. Through those conversations, they would lay out the touchstones of our faith as well – lessons in morality and responsibility. They would also teach us our history.
Then we’d pile back into the car, head either to town for the Memorial Day service at the courthouse, were some of us kids had to play in the band, or home – for breakfast and a day or chores or field work.
Our earthly tasks remained.
While our friends rested up and slept in preparation for a long fun summer, our folks were making sure that we were preparing for the long hard journey of life, by remembering those that came before and what they stood for.