My dad died nearly 30 years ago, and while memories of him remain vivid and sweet, I don’t visit his grave as often as I used to.
Lloyd V. Olson, a proud WWII army veteran, rests next to my mom, Vera, in the Camellia Garden at Floral Hills Cemetery in Alderwood, WA. I used to stop by randomly if I happened to be driving to or from the Alderwood Mall. But I rarely visit the mall anymore, and if I do drive past the cemetery, I’m usually in a hurry.
Memorial Day Weekend is coming up, and I’m at Floral Hills to leave a small flag on Pop’s grave along with some clipped poppies, which I propagate in a bed next to my driveway just for this occasion. Some years, the poppies open early and fall apart by late May. Other years, the buds remain closed until June, leaving me to harvest rhododendron or peony blossoms instead.
The camellia trees at Floral Hills are early spring bloomers, so their pink blossoms are generally gone by the time I place my orange poppies, white peonies or purple rhodys.
In recent years, I’ve skipped this graveside ritual altogether if the poppies weren’t ready. Not this year. I have a fistful of poppies, enough to share between Lloyd and two of his best buddies, Cliff and Ted, buried with their wives roughly 30 feet away on either side of the Olsons.
Pop’s headstone – supplied by the Veterans Administration – has no built-in flowerpot as many Floral Hills headstones do. So I have to bring my own plastic pot-on-a-stick to hold water and flowers. Cemetery groundskeepers put a small flag on each veteran’s grave for Memorial Day, but I like to add a slightly larger version of Old Glory when I come.
My old man, who spent 36 months overseas as an army engineer in Europe and North Africa, served 20 years as quartermaster of the VFW Gay Jones Post 921 in Snohomish while I was growing up and generally led the post’s poppy drive each spring, when members sold artificial lapel poppies as a fundraiser. Early on, Lloyd made 10-inch wood crosses on pedestals with holes drilled in the cross pieces to hold multiple poppies for business site displays.
I still have a newspaper clipping of Pop holding my niece Lisa in his lap in the mid-1970s as she offers a poppy to the mayor as that year’s designated Buddy Poppy Girl kicking off another drive.
Now, it’s poppy payback time.
The graveside thing doesn’t last very long. It doesn’t take more than a minute to fill the flowerpot from a nearby tap and leave my bouquet. I used to offer a short, silent prayer of thanks for my parents and give Pop a quick salute. But this time my prayer is aimed more for the creator and sustainer whose neck I used to hug than to the one I’m supposed to worship.
I simply say, “Thanks for everything, Pop,” and head back into the world, leaving a flag and a few flowers to stay connected.
Sort of like church on Sundays, without sitting through a sermon.
(This was written as a Writers Kickstart prompt, 500 words or less on the topic “Here I Am Again.”)