If you asked someone about their childhood memories, and they responded that hanging around a cemetery was among their most favorite, you might think them odd. But, in America and around the world, people celebrate the lives of their ancestors by “hanging out at the cemetery”.

I have fond memories of Memorial Day weekend. After a big lunch at the bowery, and a family softball game, in the less-than-a-mile-long town of Deweyville, Utah (which is at the top of the state of Utah) we migrated up the hill to the cemetery. The cemetery has had big changes since I was small. There are still pioneer-era headstones, but there are more recent ones. The number of plots available has increased from what was the size of a neighborhood baseball field to a football field. They’ve removed the cottonwoods that were at the edge of the hill overlooking the valley. And, I think they even have “automatic” irrigation.

I remember my grandma getting her box of plastic flowers from K-Mart out of the Buick and telling my mom which flowers were for which graves. My grandpa was buried there in the little Deweyville cemetery, along with most of my grandma’s family. I remember his lone plot next to one of the four small roads dividing the cemetery. It has a flat marker, and always had a cross next to it, with a small American flag flying on patriotic holidays. When grandpa was called up to serve in World War II, he was a married man, with three children at the time. A fourth came shortly after. He was young when he died, and they determined his early death was a result of the health problems that were intensified during his service. My grandma was left a young widow.

In my memory of that early Memorial Day, my grandma was older. Her children were all grown and had their own children. Yet, I could see a young woman as she placed the flowers on my grandpa’s grave. And, although I never met my grandpa in this life, his service and the loss his family felt when he died have helped to shape who I am.

My grandma remarried. The grandpa I really knew was a man who had served in the Navy. He tells of watching the flag being posted at Iwo Jima from his battleship. My dad’s father also served in the armed forces. He’s been awarded several medals, and it’s clear when you talk to him about his service, that he’s been deeply affected by things he experienced while serving. There are other examples of service to country in my family, but these are the first generation to answer the call. These men continue to shape my view of the world, both in war and peace, because of who they were and are, and what they sacrificed for me.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day in the United States. My grandma has been gone for 17 years, and her body is buried next to grandpa’s in a dedicated plot within the little cemetery in Deweyville. And, I’ll be using real flowers rather than plastic, but not much else has changed. I look forward to the feelings of gratitude and respect that will be enlarged for me, as I spend time with family. As we celebrate the beginning of the summer season, I’ll remember that we first gathered as a family to celebrate the legacy left to us by our ancestors. I’ll remember those who served, as well as those who sacrificed so that others could serve. Although I didn’t know it at the time, these are the reasons some of my favorite childhood memories are centered around a little cemetery at the top of Utah.

Thank you to the men and women who honorably serve the United States of America. May God’s best blessings be upon you and your families for generations to come.