Memorial Day Weekend. Robert, Marsha and I visited the graves of mothers, fathers, grandparents, cousins, family friends and neighbors. A perfect Minnesota day. Pre-mosquito, light-green spring leaves, high 70s, gentle breeze, small towns, families camping, Buddy the dog in the backseat…eating vinegar and sea salt potato chips and driving the country roads. We meet various members of Marsha’s extended family at the small country cemeteries. Bright bouquets of silky make-believe flowers and flocks of American flags decorate the landscape of ‘Decoration Day.’
Marsha, my sister-in-law, has become the default matriarch of both sides of her family even though an aunt on her dad’s side and an uncle on her mom’s are still alive. Stated another way, she is the glue that is connecting the Jackson and Sirotiak clans of International Falls, Blackduck and Wirt, Minnesota together as her mom and dad did during their lives. Lydia Sirotiak’s family emigrated from Czechoslovakia to Blackduck, Minnesota in the early 1900’s; Billy Jackson’s family, from England, Scotland and France came sometime earlier. Lydia and Billy met on the first day of Lydia’s first teaching job. Country school teachers boarded at homes near their assigned schools; Lydia’s host family turned out to be the Jacksons. Marsha, their only surviving child, a teacher like her mom, is trying to keep cousins connected, a sense of family intact, memories alive for awhile longer. The Sirotiaks and the Jacksons are the kinds of people who made the country, and especially its northern-most reaches, work. They were paper mill, hospital, city and public school workers. Their lives have had the expected trajectory. The parents or grandparents came to this country, worked at the hard stuff; their kids went to vocational schools or local colleges and had it a little easier. And so it goes.