Thursday, June 13, 2019



Arthur Kerns

A long time ago, in a world far, far away, Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day, the day when one would decorate monuments and gravesites with flags and flowers. It was customary that on that day my family would pile into the old 1938 Ford convertible, top down on a sunny day, and head for Holy Cross Cemetery. The expansive burial ground located in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania was only twenty minutes from our home in Darby. It was an important family ritual. We would dress in our Sunday best—even if it wasn’t Sunday—and drive off in the morning to visit the family plots. Donuts, a thermos of coffee, and a soda or two would be brought along in an old wicker basket.

At the cemetery, the grass and trees, which now had lost their dull winter brown, shimmered green. Dad would park the car in the vicinity of the family plots and we all would disembark and start reading the tombstones to get our bearings. Pretty soon, after a few disagreements about where we were, we’d find the headstones for his family, my mother’s family, and other assorted relatives, whom I knew only through family stories. Warm springtime air prompted us to wander from one family grave to another scattered throughout the cemetery.

At last, after the placing of flowers and flags on the many burial sites, we’d sit under a tree and have those donuts that I’d been thinking about since we had left home. Being the only child in the group, and living in an age when children were, “to be seen and not heard,” I remained silent and listened to family stories, some of which I had heard before with slight variations, and then some new tales. Soon, the cemetery bustled with the voices of other visitors, arriving, parking their cars, and walking along the narrow macadam lanes. The family then murmured about it being time to leave.

I have one great memory and it is a very early one. I remember the day being brilliant, the air fresh and smelling good, the tombstones bright white, and me running along the pavement, calling up to my father. He looked down and gave me a warm smile and said something that made me feel good. I took his left hand and as we walked along together for a few minutes, I felt overcome with a river of joy and love. It felt like flying. That memory has lasted to this day.

Some years later, my mother showed me a black and white photograph of my father and me walking in Holy Cross Cemetery. My father, looking dapper, wore a fedora slightly tilted and was dressed smartly in coat and tie. I wore white shorts and a white collared shirt. We both looked happy. The date on the photo indicated I was one month shy of my third birthday.