Column: Music, Memorial Day traditions bind reunion

Farm Forum

The sun comes up and the sun goes down. The days pass; another day gone, and then another. Then, Perk, suddenly it seems, your legs get sore while doing for two hours what you use to do for hours on end. Your memory dims, and names of people and places in your past elude you. Your comb fills with gray hair that has lost its interest in staying with you. You have battle scars that attest to your health issues. All of this creates talking points with others in the same fix.

And then you get together for a reunion and dinner with your two remaining brothers, a same-age cousin, along with nephews, grandchildren and in-laws. Not that it surprised you, but finding the older ones are suffering nearly the same old-age maladies brought some comfort and gave you and your guests reasons at times to lean back and unguardedly laugh at our encroaching feebleness.

Then when the-remember-when conversation was losing its appeal, it was so good to have a binding agent that glued me and my kinfolk together. In this case it was playing music.

My cousin was a superb Dixieland cornet player in his day. My brother played acoustic and guitar bass for the past 60 years or so. Another brother played acoustic bass with dance bands during his high school and college years. How fortunate that was for me, a half-crazed digital accordion player. Fun had to happen. How blessed I felt when the relatives got up and danced, when a nephew and his wife, and then two grandchildren, got on mic and sang the Johnny Cash song “Ring of Fire.” Further, when most of those attending sang along with my cousins’ rendition of an old Dixie tune “When the Saints go Marching In.” When a 3-year-old great-grandson sang “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” when they danced some more.

We went on and on before and after dinner, but after several hours of celebration, the legs, throats and fingers got tired and sore as afore-mentioned.

Memorial Day is fast approaching, so my wife, Joan, and I decided to decorate the graves of close relatives during this reunion. The day following our dinner/music get together, a three-car caravan was organized and we went to several cemeteries. Names and faces of lost family, friends and neighbors coursed through our conversation. The Memorial Day slow drive through local cemeteries has become tradition for us.

Of course the main event was going back to the farmstead where my brothers and I spent the first 18 years of our lives. Memories of childhood dominated our conversations and my mind as we saw the interior of the now-decaying, abandoned turn-of-the-century house.

Kerosene lamps, paint-repelling cedar siding, holiday meals, coldness of winters, battery-powered radios, small closets, mother’s bedside prayers, favorite foods, outdoors privy, natural stone dank basement, wood-coal-or-anything-that-burns kitchen stove, Mother’s cinnamon rolls, embraced political understandings of those days, all of it recalled, some with turned-away face and glazed eyes.

It seems that Memorial Day observances at cemeteries are important to a mostly older audience. We should praise those who organize school assemblies so students can take part in honoring those men and women who sacrificed everything for the sake of our freedoms and way of life. It indeed should be an important mission for our nation.

Perk Washenberger, Aberdeen, a retired real estate broker and business owner, now musically entertains people in senior living and care centers and at community events. Write to him at