his Labor Day, I was a freebie attendee at the Telluride Film Festival. I got to spend the weekend rubbing elbows with producers, directors and other want-a-bes.
As a freebie attendee, I had to wait till the pass holders had been seated in the venues and "if" there was room then us "freeloaders" were allowed in.
One movie that I did get into see was Volver, starring Penelope Cruz. Set in Spain and with English subtitles- it is the story of three generation of women, trying to etch out a life, steeped in tradition, economic depression, lazy or no good men, and the wind- that never stops blowing.
The movie opens as the women of the village are at the cemetery-cleaning their family crypts- carrying on the traditions of their mothers and grandmothers. To an outsider- it seems like a hopeless pursuit- the wind faster in bring dust then the women can brush it away. But I understand this tradition- coming to the place of your family, reading the names to your children, laying flowers down for them. I have been doing this with my mother and my grandmother as long as I can remember- and now I do it with my children.
Memorial Day to many is the beginning of the summer- to get the boats out and hit the lake for the first time in the season, to join the long line of cars on the freeways headed to here or there for a much needed relaxing weekend. But to some- a few hours of the weekend is spent in collecting flowers- most seasons lilacs are spent by the end of May- but peonies should be glorious. In a good year- no store bought flowers will be needed, but in a cool spring- carnations might be bought, sometimes in bundles of red white and blue.
Then early Monday morning the grandchildren are lined up with saved small tin cans which have been rolled in foil and anchored with rocks- to build bouquets- under the instructions of their grandmother, mothers and aunts- who careful disperse the glorious flowers and encourage the use of the green leafed branches for fillers. The small cans finished, the buckets of Peonies, baby’s breath, daisies, columbines and bleeding hearts, clippers, canvas, and jars of water set in the back of the car- with a designated grandchild to watch that the buckets of flower do not fall over- we start our rounds, delivering the little bouquets of flowers- to old friends- discussions arise as to the locations of the graves- by that stand of pines? Second or third row from the road? Victory is given to the one who finds the marker first and in turn a little bouquet of flowers is placed carefully by on of the granddaughters with a history lesson of our family given by her grandmother, then it is off to the car, to find the next place to put the foil wrapped tin, already in the hands of the next granddaughter.
When all the tins are delivered- we drive to the newer cemetery- flat with out the moss covered weather worn tombstones rising up from the ground and navigate the narrow lanes, lined with other cars, their trunks up and their families carrying buckets of flowers to their loved ones, and park near the back. Our graves are easy to spot, five in a row, a small American flag marking the spot. Taking the buckets, canvas and water, we get to work, pulling up the vases that have sat underground for a year and been the homes to spiders and ants. They are carefully rinsed off and secured in their stands and then filled with water. The canvas is laid out and we all start placing the flowers- making sure each gets a bursting peony first. Daisy are abundant and given to the granddaughters to stuff where they please. Discussion is on how good or bad the flowers are this year and would Grandma approve. When the vases start to fill up, we ration out the Columbine, each granddaughter placing one in her great grandmother or grandfather, great great aunt or uncles or great uncles vase and we stand back to admire how pretty our vases look.
Why do we do it- because that is what we were taught to do- by our mothers, by our grandmothers- who's mothers taught them- like the ladies of Volver- it doesn’t matter is the wind brings the dust the second we turn our backs- this is tradition.