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Memorial Day is coming! Memorial Day is coming!

Don’t look now, but Memorial Day is coming, and you know what that means.

It’s time to buy a mattress.

Or a car.

Or, if you’re a real red-blooded American, a mattress AND a car.

Perhaps, like me, you watch way too much TV. If so, you understand that this is what Memorial Day has come to mean — the words “Memorial Day” vibrating across your giant screen in red, white and blue, with stars exploding out of the words like fireworks and dollar bills raining down from the sky, suggesting that the deals on mattresses THIS Memorial Day are so amazing that you will almost certainly be driven to an orgasmic binge of shopping (and high-stakes saving) as soon as you get your sorry butt to the mattress store.

Or the local car dealer.

Of course, what Memorial Day really is all about is honoring those who died while serving in our country’s Armed Forces.

Being approximately the same age as most historic buildings, I remember when it was called Decoration Day. I still think of it as that.

I figured out early on that Decoration Day was when aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins came from as far away as Portland, Albany, Sweet Home and Coquille with carloads of flowers to put on unmarked graves all over the Coast Range that only the oldest members of the family knew how to find.

In the case of my own tribe, these cemeteries were on a hill overlooking Yachats, or way up Five Rivers, or on the side of the hill at the big bend above Tidewater (where Highway 34 goes around so far in a circle it almost meets itself).

And now, because the other person who lives at our house is from a large family from the same general area, our graveyard visits also include a stop at the little cemetery outside of Alsea, another collection of burial sites distinguished by a hillside view of surrounding mountains and green fields.

Most of the folks remembered in the Decoration Day visits were people I didn’t know personally. Fortunately, there were plenty of talkative old-timers — like Nana, my Auntie Bun, Aunt Thelma and cousin Marge — to keep the tales alive. While these strong, opinionated ladies in print dresses created humongous arrangements from old-fashioned flowers that you don’t see anymore, they talked about the few family members who didn’t come home from war. But honestly, the deceased in those days were just as likely to have succumbed to logging or farming accidents as foreign battles.

And being a voyeur at heart, I never failed to be entertained by the running commentary away from the flower action, where the men sat in big soft chairs, drank beer and made fun of, well, pretty much everything. I could lurk in the corner for hours and not let out a peep while the menfolk kibitzed about politics, sports, books and a surprising array of social phenomena.

Anyone who knew both me and my dad realizes I learned my guerilla-style humor from him. No need to dominate the conversation, he demonstrated. Just lie low, take it in and then, when there’s a lull in the chatter, sweep in with a one- or two-word quip and knock ‘em dead.

There was another entire aspect of Decoration Day in our family, and that was the Portland contingent. Both my wife and I have a number of relatives at rest in the mausoleum at Riverview Abbey — and these are people we do remember well.

Helen Kelly, for example, still gets mentioned every so often because, when a movie or TV show gets especially gooey, we’ll look at each other and smile: “Grandma Kelly would have loved that.” We know because we lived with her for a while in the late 1960s, and she loved “Family Affair,” “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” and the king of the tearjerkers, “The Waltons.”

I like to think of the Abbey residents as the city wing of the family. If you’ve never prowled the hallways of a good-sized mausoleum, I recommend it. It’s kind of like church — somber and peaceful, with all kinds of light leaking in from glass bricks at the end of corridors (and up through glass portions of the floor). And in our case, there’s the added benefit of knowing loved ones are just around the corner in those mysterious crypts.

So while you’re on your way back home next week with your new car, your new mattress or both, consider making a stop at the cemetery — or mausoleum — and pay your respects to someone who has departed.

It kind of feels good.

Besides, it’s just a matter of time before we’ll be joining them.

Former managing editor of several community newspapers, including the Woodburn Independent, Lake Oswego Review and the Times papers, Mikel Kelly is chief of the central design desk for Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune, and he contributes a regular column.


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