I had the pleasure of driving my mom to a couple of cemeteries today, to carry out the Memorial Weekend tradition of placing flowers on loved ones’ graves. It’s been a while since I’ve visited the final resting places of my maternal grandparents and my stepfather. Pop and my stepdad Max were both veterans. It was very fitting to honor them and my grandmother, who rests alongside Pop.
My favorite part of the trip though was having my sweet mother to myself. I got to ask her questions about grandparents and great grandparents and a vintage piece that belonged to great great great great grandparents, and hear her stories.
Our first stop was in the tiny town of Lanagan, about 40 miles south of Joplin. My grandparents are buried there. Mom and I climbed the hill to Grandma and Pop’s graves. It was a much steeper hill than we remembered! We giggled and held onto each other as we made the ascent.
Pop served with honor in the US Army, during WW II, receiving the Bronze Star Medal. He and my grandmother were married for almost 50 years. Pop was not my biological grandfather. After he came home from the war, he met my grandmother, who was a widow with three children. Mom laughs when she says he must have been shell-shocked, to take on a ready made family! He was a good hearted, faithful man, and raised my mom and her brother and sister as his own. And grandma was a fun, loving woman who made life an adventure. My grandparents were quite a pair.
As we left the cemetery, my mom offered to show me where she lived in Lanagan, when her biological dad was killed. I had never seen anything in Lanagan beyond the cemetery or the strip of houses and the post office on the main highway. I wanted to see where my mom lived when she was four.
Mom’s daddy, my grandpa Bill, died tragically when he was just 33 years old, leaving behind his wife and three young children. I’ve heard the story many times, about how he died trying to get home in a snow storm. He never arrived. His truck slid off the road and into a pole. He worked at Fort Crowder, to the north, and was about to join the war in Europe, when he had the accident. Although I never met this grandfather, I have a strong spiritual connection to him.
We found the corner where the house used to be. Mom said it was a cute, log cabin style house. It’s gone now. Across the street on the other corner is the church where Bill Gregory’s funeral was held. So close to the house it was, a constant reminder for my grandmother of the tragedy that altered her life. Grandpa Bill is buried in Pea Ridge Arkansas, with the rest of the Gregorys. We will visit his grave soon.
Our last stop was at a cemetery in Joplin, where my stepfather is buried. Like Pop, Max took on a ready made family! He was a hard working, creative man who only had to give his attention to something to make it flourish. He served honorably in the US Navy during WW II.
Although Max had his pilot’s license, he did not like flying over water. So he and Mom never traveled abroad, but they visited all of the continental states in their RV. He was good to my sisters and me, and a wonderful papa to our children. It is strange to see my mom’s name already etched on the stone, but it doesn’t bother her a bit. I want to keep her healthy and with us for a long, long time!
I enjoyed hearing my mom’s stories and seeing the corner where she lived for a time. I asked to hear the stories behind a couple of vintage items that she has given me, and I’m glad I asked! I had two of the stories mingled together.
It is special to me to hear family stories, and imagine those people as they lived their lives, with joys and with sorrows. I want to be the keeper of their stories, while honoring them.
It’s even more important to me to enjoy the living. In asking questions and listening to my mom’s stories, I honor her now, and hear her great heart.