I grew up in suburban Southern California, land of Forest Lawn, Rose Hills, and other big cemeteries. There were some small, old-fashioned cemeteries in the area, usually having to do with early settlers. I remember a little one in Yorba Linda that had readable headstones dating back to 1870 (and others where all markings had worn away). But most of the people I knew used the bigger cemeteries. My grandparents and parents are buried in one, as are a variety of aunts and uncles. Those places are BIG; you need maps to find where people are buried. They all offer “perpetual care,” which means they water and mow the lawns, and probably use herbicides and pesticides to make things look “nice.” The headstones are flat, and set deeply enough into the grass that the mowers will not touch them. Most of the plots have one or two plastic cups for flowers set into the grass below the headstone, also under mowing level. Crews go through the cemeteries on a regular basis, gathering and disposing of the dead flowers or non-flower displays that have been there a couple weeks. There are usually trees scattered through the cemeteries, and many of them have gardens of flowers or statue areas for people to walk through.
In our little corner of Northern California, the cemeteries are not quite as organized. There is the public cemetery, with the Catholic section, Veteran’s section, charity section, and everyone else. While many of the headstones are flat, there are plenty that are not. The sections are maintained by their respective groups or sometimes the County or volunteers. There is a pioneer (non-Native American) cemetery in Smith River where families have plots and pay a subscription fee to have them tended. The Native American cemeteries are tended by families, so they show more variety, with plants and flowers on the graves.
Apparently it is traditional for families to tidy up the graves over Memorial Day weekend. There were flags at the Pioneer Cemetery. I have seen the local Tolowa cemetery from the outside, and it always looks tidy, so am not sure they had much to do. Flowers were thrown into the ocean for those who died at sea. Growing up in Southern California, I remember going to the cemetery three or four times a year and putting flowers on the family graves, but was not aware of it being specific to Memorial Day. That seems sad to me — not to have that connection with your ancestors. Many cultures are more conscious of honoring their ancestors . . . burning incense before photos, decorating graves, , laying out offerings of food or other symbolic items. The Day of the Dead in Mexico is one such day. So many of us have moved to areas far away from where our ancestors are buried; that is when perpetual care is a good thing, because we can not be there to do it. Or perhaps there are people who would really rather not honor or remember certain ancestors.
What do you think?