Roger George and his wife, Shirley George, began Memorial Day weekend the same way they have since they were children — by planting flowers on the graves of relatives.
The Bangor couple on Friday planted flowers on Shirley’s parents’ and sister’s graves in Milo. On Saturday morning, they decorated Roger’s parents’ and grandparents’ graves at Mount Hope Cemetery in Bangor. They were headed to Blue Hill on Saturday afternoon “to do the rest of the family.”
The Georges, both 69, have visited relatives’ graves to clean up debris left from the winter months and to plant flowers since they were toddlers. They believe they are carrying on a family tradition and honoring the dead.
They were not alone Saturday. Dozens of other people dotted the cemetery decorating graves.
“My father was a school teacher in Milo but in the summers, he worked in the local cemetery,” Shirley George said Saturday at Mount Hope Cemetery. “A cemetery is not a scary place to me. It is a place for reflection and contemplation. It is a calming place for me.”
Memorial Day originally was called Decoration Day and created as a time to honor the Civil War dead. The holiday began in 1868, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.
That year, Commander in Chief John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic issued an order designating May 30 “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion.”
The holiday has been observed on the last Monday in May since 1971, giving Americans the last three-day weekend in spring. It also is considered the beginning of the summer vacation and tourist season.
Maine law requires that municipalities place small flags on every veteran’s grave on Memorial Day. That task is carried out by municipal workers, but also by volunteers and members of Scout troops, usually in the week leading up to the weekend.
There were two flags Saturday on either side of the headstone bearing the name George. One was for Edson George, a U.S. Army veteran who died in 1975 at the age of 64. The other was for his wife, Helena G. Dymond George, who died in 1998 at the age of 94 and served in the women’s auxiliary of the Army.
“My mother and I did this together,” Roger George said Saturday morning as he planted geraniums, three red and one pink, at the headstone on the family plot. “She said, ‘Always keep our graves very neat. Be proud of them.’”
“It’s still a family effort,” he said. “My wife and I do this together. Our kids came when they were young. My father died in 1975, so I’ve been doing this plot for 43 years.”
Roger George said the red flowers were for his father and the pink geranium for his mother.
“Pink was her favorite color,” he said. “Geraniums are a hardy plant and they last a long time. We’ll put some impatiens on other graves in Blue Hill.”
After the Georges finished decorating his parents’ graves, the couple moved on to a nearby headstone where his maternal grandparents, Sterling Dymond and his wife, Janie Dymond, are buried. At that site, they planted more flowers.
“Nobody does this but me and I will keep doing it as long as I’m in good health,” Roger George said.
Shirley George hopes the many people who visit Mount Hope Cemetery to walk, eat lunch and to reflect enjoy the flowers on the graves.
“It is nice to have these beautiful flowers to look at and enjoy,” she said.
As the Georges’ children live out of state, the couple does not expect them to carry on the tradition of planting flowers on relatives’ graves.
“This probably will end with us,” Shirley George said.
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