Sunday, May 27, 2012

Of Honor, Tribute, and Memory

Every Memorial Day is much the same in my memory. Every year we wake early and dress in our nice clothes so we will look our best for the family. We pack some snacks and books and five kids into the car and get onto US 40 heading towards Salt lake. And rain or shine, we take three pots of mums and go to visit three grave sites where rest our kindred dead.

First we go to see Great Grandma and Grandpa Pullan, who are laid beside their son Stan in the Salt Lake Cemetary. If we haven't already heard the stories, we stand and tell them here. Dad tells us about how Grandpa Pullan would always whear a button-up shirt and would pay my dad to mow the lawn. We hear about sweet Grandma Pullan and how the poor woman was diabetic but had a terrible sweet tooth, and how her cupboard was always stocked with cookies just for her grandchildren to sneak away when they thought she wasn't looking. We remember Stan, and remember how he had died in the same accident that had so injured our grandparents all those years ago. Mom arranges us behind Grandma and Grandpa's headstones and takes a picture of us with the mums all well dressed and smiling and one year older than we were in the last picture.

Next we drive around for a few minutes while dad complains about never being able to find the next grave. Finally we find it--a somewhat neglected little headstone beneath a towering pine in another corner of the cemetery. Here lies James and Laurany Huffaker, two of our pioneer forebearers. Mom will tell us the story of Grandma and Grandpa Huffaker crossing the plains in a covered wagon and about the hardships they faced along the way, including the death of one of their daughters just after Laurany had given birth to a new baby. We remember their work to settle in the Salt Lake valley and their early deaths not long thereafter. I take a moment to brush the leaves from the stone and read the inscription beneath their names--"The Book of Mormon is true."

At last we drive to the Midvale cemetery to see Great Grandma and Grandpa Foster. I knew Grandma, so these are stories I can participate in. I can tell about visiting Grandma Foster in Copperton and getting cookies from the cat cookie jar and visiting with her while sitting in Grandpa's big chair. We hear again about Grandpa's legendary strength and his years of work in the Kennecott copper mines. We hear the story of how he came back to the church when he was invited to be a temple worker in his later years; how he quit smoking cold turkey at that very moment, and how he worked in the Salt Lake temple for the rest of his life, even when Grandma had to get up at five in the morning to do his tie for him because his hands couldn't quite manage the knot anymore. We leave a pot of mums with the half a dozen already there, tenderly arranged by the other branches of our family.

Every year I am impressed with how much happiness, blessings, sorrow, and love can fill a lifetime. I love hearing my parents, uncles, aunts, and grandparents tell me about my family members because I get to see a little glimpse of who they were and the kind of lives they lived. I still wish I could have known them all--it would take whole lifetimes of stories for me to truly come to know each of my predecessors. I can see a little, however, and what I see makes me very proud to be part of their families.

Sometimes I wish I could leave something more than just mums--something that would truly show my gratitude for the lives they lived and the examples they set for me. I wish I had the voice to sing something beautiful by their grave sites. I wish I had the skill to create something exquisite and remarkable to leave at their tombstones. I wish I had the memories to give their names and their stories all that they deserve.

I haven't any of those things to give, though. Instead, I follow the words of President Hinkely: "The best things in life give all they have, even if it isn't very much." I say a small prayer at some point in the day, thanking my Heavenly Father for the blessing of the heritage I have been born into.

This year, though, I have thought of something new. There is something I can give in tribute, and it is worth more than anything else I could provide. My Uncle Wayne told the grandkids once that if we truly wanted to thank Grandma and Grandpa for what they had done for us, we could be good boys and girls, the best we can be--because that is what they wanted more than anything. I think I can give the same to my kindred who have passed on. I can live with the kindness and love I have learned from Grandma and Grandpa Pullan's stories of they way they served others, including their family. I can strive for the kind of faith and testimony I have seen in Grandma and Granpa Huffaker's stories of obeying commandments and enduring to the end. I can emmulate Grandpa Foster's dedication and swiftness to do right even after many years of wrong and Grandma Foster's strength to overcome depression and to keep taking her children to church without her husband for so many years.

I can give myself--the best version of myself I can be, made better by the service and sacrifice and righteous examples of those who have walked the path before me. It is the best tribute I can give--the same one my Heavenly Father asks of me every day as I walk the path of his son Jesus Chirst.

I think my grandparents will be happy with my gift.

Happy Memorial Day, my friends - until next time...

Monday, May 14, 2012

The World Turned Upside Down

Do you remember ever standing on your head when you were a little kid? I do. I would put a pillow from the couch on the floor, right up agains the wall (because I never could do a proper cushion-less handstand), then place my head on it and flip my feet up onto the wall above me. All at once the floor was above me and the ceiling below, and the couch and table and my mother and everything else were hanging upside down. What an interesting perspective! Just a little gymnastic work and I could turn the whole world on its head.

Zoom ahead a dozen years or so. A few days ago I went out for a walk with my five year old brother and the dog. The day was cool and breezy, but the sky was still blue and bright, touched here and there with a few gentle clouds. We followed Nathan's directions (my brother, not the dog) as we wound our way in and out of the hilly little streets of our hilly little neighborhood. "Which way should we go, Nathan?" "That way!" "Now which way?" "This way!" Eventually we ended down at the park, where Nathan declared we would stay for "six minutes." I tied up the dog and we went to the set to play.

We started out being pirates, but eventually Nathan wanted to be a monkey on the monkey bars, so we did that for a while - I being the ground level spotter so that the sister monkey didn't have to turn into the family practitioner. When Nathan's hands got tired of being a monkey, we moved on to a set of side-by-side uneven bars. I tried to get Nathan to hang upside down, but he chickened out and fell into my waiting arms. I remembered exactly how to do it from the days when school came with pre-planned playtime, so when Nathan moved on to bigger and better things I tried it myself. I grabbed the bar, walked my feet up one of the vertical pylons, tucked my legs over the bar between my hands, and let go.

The world twisted around and suddenly everything was different. All at once the ground was over my head and the mountains were hanging peaks down from the valley floor. I looked down - or sort of up - and saw my feet dangling over an endless expanse of blue sky. I reached my hands toward the playground sand and planted them there. It felt like I was holding on for dear life to a secure and grounded ceiling to keep from falling into the ocean of blue. All of Heber was on level with my head, and I could see all the way to a flipped Provo Canyon and an upside down Deer Creek. It was singularly interesting just to sit there (even with the blood rushing to my head) and see the world a little differently than I did before.

Eventually I flipped back down and got my bearings. Sand underneath, sky up above, wind in the middle. Perfectly back to normal. After a moment of looking, though, I went straight back to the bar and turned upside down again. Normal is nice sometimes, but abnormal was way too much fun.

The moral of the story? When life gets hard or humdrum or boring or lonely or sad, try turning it on its head - either literally or figuratively, you choose. Kids know the truth that grownups tend to forget - that there's a lifetime of discoveries to make (and a whole lot of fun to boot) by turning the world upside down.

I'll post again soon, I promise! 'Til next time...