Memorial Weekends at the ‘Rapids’



This column ran in a newspaper in 2014.


I’m guessing relatives of mine have been gathering in the small cemetery just east of Neosho Rapids, Kansas, on Memorial Day weekend for at least 100 years.

I know for a fact that Clements, Noonans and O’Tooles have been getting together at the cemetery for at least 80 years because my Uncle Jim was there for many of those gatherings.

The cemetery sits on a slight hill overlooking rolling farmland. There are two entrances to the cemetery. The first entrance was originally for the Protestant side of the cemetery, and the second entrance was for the Catholic side. The Protestant side is much larger than the Catholic side.

In the early days of the cemetery, there was a Protestant side and a Catholic side because that’s the way things were done back then. Today, there really isn’t any sort of official Protestant-Catholic designation at the cemetery. But tradition tends to rule, and for the most part, Protestant and Catholic families tend to stick to their respective sides.

On Sunday morning, I was standing next to Jim, who was looking at a group of tombstones that included his mother’s and his grandparents’. For some reason, I had never asked Jim if his relatives got together on Memorial Day when he was a kid, so I asked, and he said that they did.

According to Jim, who turned 80 last October, Memorial Day gatherings when he was a kid were a pretty big deal. Relatives from Emporia, Burlington, Lebo, Hartford and other nearby Kansas towns or farms would make pretty much the same trek to the cemetery that my family makes today.

Jim didn’t say this, but I’m pretty sure that back then my relatives would get out of their cars at the cemetery and pretty much do what we do. A few people would dig holes for flowers and water the flowers, while the rest of the folks would stand around and talk. Sometimes they would talk about family members long gone, and sometimes they would chat about their own lives. There would be laughter and an occasional moment of reflection that might bring on a tear or two.

But mainly there would be laughter, because everyone knew that’s what the family members buried in the cemetery would have wanted.

Jim said that after a while, everyone would get into their cars and head to “the Rapids.” Jim didn’t say this, but I’m pretty sure that nobody said, “Well, it’s time to head to the Rapids.” Instead, I’m pretty sure that my relatives just sort of sensed when it was time to leave, and folks would slowly walk to their cars.

Jim said that everyone would make the short drive to my great-aunt Birdie’s house in the Rapids for lunch. Those Memorial Day lunches at Aunt Birdie’s were a pretty big deal, he said, and I believe him because kids tend to remember those sorts of things.

“She always had made sure there was strawberry shortcake with strawberries from the garden and brown, new potatoes from the garden,” Jim said.

I’m guessing that the strawberries must have been pretty good because in Jim’s senior class yearbook, he is quoted as liking “chili and strawberries in their respective seasons.” By the way, he also was quoted as saying that his future plans included “attending the University of South Korea,” and he did. Although he didn’t so much attend a university in South Korea as he did a war.

Jim didn’t say this, but I’m pretty sure that back then, folks would marvel at the massive spread of food, eat too much and maybe have a beer or two. But mainly they would talk and laugh.

And then, sometime in the middle of the afternoon, folks would sort of sense that it was time to leave. So, they would say their goodbyes, get in their cars and drive home.

Jim didn’t say this, but I’m pretty sure that on the way home, my relatives took some time to remind themselves to treasure days like the one they just spent.