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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Decoration Day

My mother taught me to drive in the cemetery.

It was the one place, she said, that I could not kill anybody. Also, she joked (she actually made a few jokes from year to year) that if I made a terrible mistake, well, we were already in the place where we would end up after all. She did not make me laugh often but this was her scandalous joke and she told it often, to anyone who would listen. I sometimes wonder if there was some secret humor she was keeping to herself, her last laugh at the dead.

At any rate... Generations of Andersons, Swansons, and Ericksons were buried in Linn Grove Cemetery. In Colorado we mean, by generations, at the most four or five but we went all that way back. My great-great grandfather August was out here for the post-gold rush gold rush by the 1860's. He was a miner in Gilpin County, Central City, long before Colorado became a state and he is listed with his brother in the 1870 census. Fortune failed them in gold country so they became "sod-busters" on the dry, desert plains north of Denver and were attracted later to the county north of Greeley between the Cache le Poudre and South Platte Rivers. Irrigation was invented and farms began to spring up.

C.V. and August wrangled the earth successfully, had bushels of children and children's children and managed to yield fine crops of sugar beets, potatoes, corn and hay.

When I was a kid, before learning to drive, we went to the Linn Grove Cemetery on Memorial Day and it was called Decoration Day. We put petunias on some graves and geraniums on others. If you want to know the truth, my cousins and I wandered around and played. As years went on, I became amazed at just how many Andersons and Swansons and Ericksons had been laid carefully to rest forever in this dry clay dirt.

I don't go to the cemetery anymore. I have learned to drive. I don't need it for that. And I have lost the sense of connection with all those ancestors too. Some I would just as soon forget forever. I inherited some weird DNA, there are some petty stories that bother me, and I just don't feel like I belong.

Some day this summer, though, I will find myself drawn to Linn Grove and stand over those graves and wonder about the ancients who came west on horseback and in wagons and on primitive trains. They came with guts and pick axes and shovels and Singer sewing machines like the one in our dining room. They could have stopped but they kept on coming. They could have found an established city or town to settle in but they kept on moving.

So maybe that line of connection is unbroken after all. I don't forge new ground with a pick ax or dig up much dirt with a hoe -- my garden is modest -- but that impulse to forge new adventures, push into the unknown, break new ground is still alive and compelling.

So maybe I'm no dirt farmer. But I belong.

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