This year, our family celebrates Memorial Day the way we usually do, by trekking across the state to my grandma's house, my mother's hometown. GrandDad wants to visit old family graves, his first time doing so since Grandmother passed away in February. We all pile into the car, backtracking back along the highway for an hour to the tiny towns and tinier cemeteries where our relatives lie under rampant May grass.
Mom, slightly more familiar with these names and histories, takes photos of the headstones and the silk flowers we brought to stick in the ground. I use my phone to take notes, writing down who is buried where in each cemetery we visit. I make sure to write down how they are related to GrandDad, because the names are already confusing and intertwined with nicknames that Mom and GrandDad use interchangeably. We stop by old houses where some of these people used to live: all of them aging, past their prime, no longer maintained.
At one cemetery, we turn off a paved county road for a gravel one. The abandoned church here is the provenance of the church pew in our basement. Leaving, we continue down the gravel road in a brief detour. GrandDad tells the story of his uncle Hurley, or one of his acquaintances, who couldn't make it up the steeply inclined hill in his Model T and slid all the way down to the bottom. I realize that when GrandDad says Model T, he means "as in one of the oldest versions of the car" Model T.
We move on. Another small, abandoned church and its churchyard. Here, an immense oak and equally ancient hickory tree stand sentry over the graves, and surprisingly we are not the only car here to visit these plots. Some of the headstones have only dates from the nineteenth century. I stand in front of a reddish granite marker with my great-great-great-grandparents' names, GrandDad's grandparents. The church is locked only with a hook and eye closure, and inside it is undisturbed from apparently the last time it had a service. The Bible lies open on the lectern; a hymnal is open on the piano and my mother sight-reads old devotions with open chords. On a side table, a ledger has the offerings collected from the 1960s and 70s; if this is the most recent ledger, the church has been undisturbed since 1978. On the back wall, a plan of the grave plots has family names penned into tiny rectangles.
When we turn around and head back toward Hannibal and supper, we decide to go to one last place. Grand View Burial Park hugs the highway, and the entrances are guarded by American flags on tilted white poles. We reach our part of the cemetery, toward the eastern edge, where our family's plot is. Mom and I arrange the Hobby Lobby silk flowers in Dad's vase, adding them to the white rose bouquet that Grandma and Grandpa left on their way back from graduation. We admire Grandmother's plaque, a double-wide with GrandDad's name already inscribed next to her, something that strikes me as a bit morbid but also strangely practical. I take photos of the graves, angling the camera and crouching on the ground to get the perfect shot of my aunt's flower arrangement draping gracefully over the marble and brass designs.