Families pay tribute, share memories of loved ones for Memorial Day
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Some people just stood quietly, perhaps in prayer. Others came and cleaned away the grass, placing their flowers when done.
To some, it was simply a time to celebrate, mourn, laugh and cry as they thought about a mother who had passed on, a patriotic World I soldier wounded in France or the tiny young infant who never had the chance to grow up.
For all who turned their attention to cemeteries on Sunday to mark the Memorial Day weekend, it was a chance to honor traditions and to reflect on those who may have left, but who are kept nearby with memories.
"This is my uncle," said Renay Harman, pointing to a marker at the Elysian Burial Grounds in Murray. "He never got married and took care of his parents. He was a soldier in the Army in World War II."
She paused for a minute at the grave site of Clifton F. Ward, who died Oct. 27, 1985.
"He was a very fine man and I loved him deeply," she said. "He was like a father to me because my own father was killed at the beginning of World War II."
Elsewhere at the cemetery, it was a "great lady," who brought Dal and Nola Freeman out on Sunday to pay their respects. His mother, Lucy Freeman McBride, died Aug. 6, 2010. She was 93, and from early settler stock that worked the farms in the Murray area.
"She was wonderful," she Nola Freeman. "A very giving person."
Across the way, Tyler Williams said Memorial Day for his family is a way to pay tribute to those men and women, the veterans, who have given so much sacrifice for their country.
"It is also a way of remembering loved ones and by doing so, it keeps our own lives in better perspective."
A whole crowd of the Williams was at the cemetery to decorate multiple grave sites.
Tyler, his wife, Cherise, and their four children were clearing away the marker for Travis James Williams, Tyler's brother who died in 1979 at age four months of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
While the Williams' own little boy, Carter, played with a potato bug, his sisters Lyndi, Karissa and Maura worked near the grave site. Soon, Tyler Williams' father, Richard, showed up.
The elder Williams said he was also there to make sure the grave site of his own father, Leonard A. Williams, bore a flag.
"The flag was always important to him," he said. "He was a World I veteran wounded in France. I have to make sure he had a flag."
The elder Williams said the trips to the cemetery to take care of the graves and leave flowers are a tradition handed down from generation to generation.
While they were talking, Mitchell Travis Williams, 16, arrived, standing next to the marker for his uncle, the young baby he was named after but never met.
In the same cemetery not far from the Williams' group, a trio of women sat on the grass next a gravestone, having lunch and smiling amongst themselves. They seemed in no hurry to leave, basking in the warmth of the late May sun.
They had Arby's bags, a banana, and plenty of stories to tell about the woman they'd come to honor, laughing through tears as they dogpiled on their memories of Wilma Hemingway DeSpain.
Susan Chamberlin and her sister Mitzi DeSpain often come to the cemetery to "lunch" with their mother. Granddaughter, Hannah Neal, 20, was there as well.
"She was like Lucille Ball to everybody," Susan Chamberlin said. The marker bore the etching of a dancer — Wilma had been a professional dancer in her life — and engaged in playful antics that kept everybody laughing.
When her grandchildren didn't believe she could stand on her head, Wilma Hemingway DeSpain did so on a chair in a pizza parlor.
Susan Chamberlin said her mother, too, had been the kind of woman in life that even if her marriages didn't quite work out, she still loved her former husbands and stayed friends with them. She is, in fact, buried next to two of them.
It's been seven years since Wilma Chamberlin DeSpain died, but the sisters come to Elysian Burial Gardens on Memorial Day, Christmas, and other times of the year to catch up with each other, and stay connected to the woman who left such an impression.
"The thing you have to hang onto is the memories," said Susan Chamberlin. "They are still alive. We feel like she is still alive."
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