My Great-Grandma Favre
Every Year, the first Saturday in May we set aside a day of travel and work and reunion. This may not be a big deal to many, but in my family of origin, it is a day of remembering and honoring those in our family who have gone before us. It is a time when many of my extended family will make a trek North to the family cemetery up near the small town of Grey Eagle, Minnesota.
This is a tradition that has been passed on through the generations and hopefully will continue with my children and their children's children long after I am gone. The task consists of raking the cemetery grounds of at least a ton of downed pine needles from the centuries old massive white pines that stand reaching skyward. Each family takes an area near their family plots and rakes, gathers downed branches and hauls it all to the enormous pile at the other side of the property. Or if you’re really lucky someone will come by with their tractor and trailer and pile the needles on to haul away. It starts early in the morning and usually is completed by about noon, at which time there is a barbecue with many different foods that each one brings to share. There usually will be close to 80-100 people there. Last year because of Covid and having to isolate there was no day of gathering. After asking around different family members no one could recall another time that cleanup day didn’t take place. Maybe during the Spanish flu pandemic? No one has any memory of a story of the day being called off...ever.
For as long as I can remember, cemetery clean-up day has been around. We have tried to pinpoint the exact number of years this has been going on and the best guess is....well....forever. Or at least 80+ years that my ancestors have taken the first Saturday in May to come to Bear Head Union Cemetery and cleaned. Since I was a baby, I have been brought to Bear Head to be with my relatives, both above and beneath the ground. Oftentimes, I can remember standing by a gravesite and listening while one of my older relatives would tell a story about that family member whose graveside we were standing near. Seems like nowadays, it is my brother and aunt who tell the history and stories. The family story keepers.
Since I have had my own kids, we have made the journey back to Bear Head many times. And in the past few years, my children have begun to bring their children, with rakes in hand.
This year there were many that couldn’t make it. Some due to other things happening, illness, or the miles between Bearhead and where they are now being a thousand miles away.
As the years have gone by, the number of relatives buried there has increased. There are great-grandparents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and even one more generation buried at the old homestead on the hill nearby. With all of the generations there, both above and beneath the ground there will be 7 or 8 generations intertwined at the cemetery on that first Saturday in May. The impact the ones who have gone before me have had and the impact the ones standing beside me have had in my life is beyond what I can comprehend or express. I will stand there looking out at the tombstones of my relatives, while holding the hand of a grandchild or watch my cousin’s grandkids and became aware of the blessings that are passed on to each of us through the generations. We are all related.
My hope is that as I go through my life, I can always be aware of the blessings that have been passed on to me from those that have gone before me. I continue to hope for the opportunity to have the chance to pass those blessings on to those who will go after me. I pray for the wisdom and guidance to rake away those things that will not be a blessing to those who will follow. Let that be the legacy we leave behind those that follow. Because after all, we are all related.