Mike is our family "conscience". He started a tradition when he visits graves that I have try to carry on whenever I go to a cemetery. He tries to leave coins (quarters, pennys, if he has them, dollar coins) on gravestones. He calls them "coins from heaven". And the intent is that kids find them when they visit the graves (normally not a very exciting outing for a young child).

My belated thanks to all of you who served in our armed forces on this Veteran's Day. The older I get, the more I appreciate your service to our country. My thanks.

I visited the cemetaries yesterday, on Veteran's Day. I missed doing it for All Saints/All Souls Day. Our skies were overcast all day, though our trees are still incredibly colorful. (I realize why I like being outside so much more on the bright autumn Chicago-area days - the whole landscape is full of colors! Winter has a predominence of white, spring and summer is mainly green. But in the fall - nature just splashes whole swatches of yellows and oranges and reds and browns and greens and blues. It reminds me of something Danny Kaye once said: "Life is a big canvas. Splash all the paint on it you can.")

I usually arm myself with a putty knife and small stiff paintbrush for trimming the gravestones, as well as some seasonal artifical decorations (I'm finding our weather is too rough on real plantings.)

My first stop, after Church was Terry's Mom's grave, right nearby in Evergreen Park, with a short prayer for family health.

Then a search for FLAGS!! All the stores have Christmas - not even much in the way of Thanksgiving decorations now. It took me 4 stops before I could find any. Then to the graves a friend's parents' grave, in the cemetary just east of Mom and Dad's, adjacent to the funeral home where Uncle Frank/Aunt Rosemary/Cathy and I believe Uncle Paul had wakes/memorial services. This cemetary also has a Jewish cemetary adjacent, and I remember Dad telling a story of cutting through one (this one) to get to the fishing spots. Seems that when I do I stop here, I always find "wild" life - once a red-tailed hawk. Another time a fox. And a pair of blue jays. And this time a pair of "flickers" (kinda like like woodpeckers). So it's a park-like place. But I was dismayed to find that someone had stolen a pair of brass (bronze?) vases that were part of the stones (the vases were set into the stone, unexposed, and could be turned upright if desired. But someone unscrewed them and took them. Scrape?? Sad. So sad. So I left a couple bunches of fall flowers to hide the holes, and a flag, and played TAPS and Amazing Grace on the harmonica. (Both I taught to mysef. Taps is easy. But my harmonica is a 10 hole version, so I can't play all the notes for Amazing Grace.

Then on the Grandma & Grandpa Vrtis (Dad's parents), and Aunt Fran & Uncle Ray (my godparents) and Sister Michael Anne (an acquaintance of Rosemarie Mack, who worked near us at Little Company Of Mary Hospital. Sister was there when Jeremy, Jenny and Joy were born, and would often join us at family celebrations.) All those graves are close together. (I noted that NOBODY messes with the nun's graves....the flower I left in summer was still there, though all the other decorations had been removed in late October.) I left more flowers for everyone, and played "Michael Row The Boat Ashore". (And thought that the second verse "Sister help to trim the sail..." made it even more appropriate.)

Then to Uncle Frank's/Aunt Rosemary's/Cathy Pater's, all near Mom & Dad's. Placed small batches of flowers, and a flag (again TAPS) and played "Oh Shenandoah" thinking of the cottage and the memories that they helped build there.

Then Mom & Dad's. More flowers. And a flag. And TAPS. And prayers. I wish Mom & Dad's site was more scenic, but it's the most barren. And there are "herds" of wild geese all around. Making kneeling and cleaning up even dirtier. I did play, "He's Got The Whole World In His Hands" there. And tipped my cowboy hat once for Chuck, like he always reminds me too. And even if it's not the nicest site, it's because of them that I've started visiting graves more often.

Then to Aunt Rosaleen' and Uncle Al's in Holy Sepalcur (sp). Boy, I hadn't been there since Easter. Had a lot of trimmming to do. I played Beethoven's "Ode To Joy" here. (All of these songs were filled with bad notes....I sure need to practice.) I sure miss playing games with Aunt Rosaleen. And Dad always valued Uncle Al's help and advice at the cottage.

Then to Tom Beemster's stone nearby. Again, a flag, and TAPS. The other song was "Skip To My Lou"!!!!! (Sorry Tom, but that was the only one left!!! I can here him muttering now - "Mom Veras gets 'Ode To Joy" and I get 'Skip To My Lou'!") I sure miss playing games with you too Tom!

I remember going to Michael Morgan's wake (Ray and Debbie's son), and listening to all of the music his friends chose to play as background music. And before my computer crashed, I recorded some of my favorite music too, so I had those songs along for the ride.

There's more I would have liked to write, but I'm out of time.

Wish I could have vistied a lot more graves yesterday, but sometimes it's good just to be grateful for all the people in my life - INSIDE myself.

My thanks again to all the vets out there.

Thoughts & prayers,

Mike