Capitol Update: Rep. Esau shares remembrances of Decoration Day

Rep. Charlotte Esau. Photo courtesy Rep. Charlotte Esau.

Each legislative session, we provide Shawnee Mission area legislators the opportunity to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Charlotte Esau, Rep. Nancy Lusk and Sen. John Skubal are scheduled to send updates this week. Rep. Esau’s column is below.

“Here, Charlotte, put these in my trunk…”, I can still hear my grandfather telling me as he cut branches from the huge lilac tree next to the house. Why, I wondered…

As I was thinking on what I wanted to say this Memorial Day, that memory came flooding back.

Many years ago, my mother took us kids back to her hometown for an extended visit for a special family wedding. The first of my many cousins was getting married! Dad worked for Continental Airlines as a supervisor at the time, which meant working holidays and moving a lot for promotions, so we rarely spent actual holidays visiting extended family. There were perks, we flew for most vacation trips and did get to visit family, but you had to plan carefully if you needed several seats because if the plane was full, we wouldn’t get on. So, the plans were made, we’d go before Memorial Day and Dad would join us later, closer to the wedding in mid-June.

The Monday after we arrived, my grandfather came by the house where my cousins and family lived. It was the old family home, built in 1903, the year he was born, and next to the house was a huge lilac bush covered in spring blossoms. He started cutting branches, we put them in his trunk, and then we piled into the car and drove a few blocks to the local cemetery. I remember being puzzled by this. Memorial Day was a big deal, but I didn’t recall doing this before, I’m sure because we had never lived near family graves.

I have memories of him telling who was buried in each plot as we placed flowers on many graves. He knew them all and where to find them, including his grandfather who served in the civil war and died just 20 days before my grandfather was born. That cemetery visit is likely the beginning of my quest to learn the individual stories and family histories that are hinted at in the names and dates on each gravestone. Today, in part because of that one holiday tradition that I just happened to be in town to experience, I not only know of my family’s history in war and peacetime service but I know their names and some of the experiences of generations of grandfathers who served in many wars, including some on both sides of the civil war, as well as uncles, cousins, and the one my mother’s generation remembers, their only paternal cousin, Private First Class James H Wilson who was wounded on June 8, 1951 in Korea and died later that day. He had enlisted 3 months before and was just 19 years old.

What I didn’t know then was that cemetery trip was a family tradition; as I was refreshing my memory with my mother she said, “we always put lilacs on the graves on Memorial Day.” Yet had I not been there that year, I might not know this or the reasons behind it. So many family traditions are shared from generation to generation in seemingly everyday events. I hope you have memories of such things in your family as well. I hope you’ll also take time to share the stories with the younger generation around you. They can only remember our history if we pass it on.

Memorial Day started out as “Decoration Day”, a day to remember all those lost in the Civil War. As time went on, it became a day we remember all those lost in any war or military service, protecting the freedoms we enjoy as Americans. Today we remember and honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms, and for us here locally, we also remember law enforcement officers we’ve so recently lost. For many of you, whether your loss is someone who’s served or not, this day also reminds you of family or friends who are no longer with you and I pray you find peace and comfort. May God continue to bless our great country and state, and may we be found worthy of the sacrifice so many have given on our behalf.

(Some of you may have been reading this looking for a legislative update. For that I ask that you visit, where I hope to post a wrap-up later this week.)