A Good Turn

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Sunday afternoon we met a massive herd of Scouts at the Jefferson Barracks' National Cemetery for the annual Memorial Day Good Turn, which began here in St. Louis during the 1800s. The gist of the observance is to pay a good deed back to the brave men and women buried there by sticking American flags by every headstone. There are a lot of those simple white headstones: from satellite it looks as though the earth is perforated.

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(I've written before how my family has a thing for cemeteries. (OK, fine, to an extent I suppose I do as well.) They engage in what I call a Southern Graveyard Vigil, wherein they habitually visit our family's ancient cemetery atop a hill in the Ozarks, and gaudy it up with Wal-Mart gewgaws like wind chimes, scary resin angel babies, and expensive fake flowers. You've only to step one foot in our family cemetery before knowing which headstones are those of our most immediate kin: they're literally covered up with stuff. I imagine some of my aunts going up together and gathering 'round the headstones like the Peanuts gang around Charlie Brown's Christmas tree. It's like they're trying to incur favor after the fact or make up for a mistake - some of them are. My mother has tried in vain to involve me in this morbid family tradition. I have resisted mainly because I think it's weird and because I don't believe that people are tied up with their bodies anymore after death. I feel that a person's memory is best honored by acting decent and converting their death to legend by describing them to the next generation. If a person is able to somehow visit the earth I think that the last place they'd loiter is the place they're buried. That's the last place I'd go, anyway. I'd haunt the hell out all those I didn't like just for kicks.)

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When I told my mom about the Good Turn I heard her face crack a smug expression through the phone line. It wasn't the same but yet it was. For us, it was more about making a public statement of support and using it as a physical lesson to teach Liam about the cost of liberty. I know this is America and all, but it's one of those things that you can't put on credit. During the flag ceremony they played "Amazing Grace" on bagpipes and holy Moses that, coupled with anything from Allison Krauss on the "O Brother Where Art Thou" soundtrack, and Susan Tedeschi's "Angel from Montgomery" are the only pieces of music that move me to tears. As the flag raised black storm clouds pushed across the sky; the wind blew and the rope clanged against the metal flagpole and kept cadence with the music. All were somber.

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Afterwards the Scouts were let loose in the cemetery; each troop had its own section. We picked up our flag bundles and quickly, yet respectfully, weaved through the headstones sticking flags into the ground as instructed. We were warned that we had but minutes to do the job before the storm arrived. No one balked at their duty. Then the heavens opened up as though mourning the loss of all those put into the earth by war. I snapped a couple of photos from under my umbrella before putting it away and joining my gleeful boys who traipsed about the tombstones waving their flags in the rain. That's when I wish life had a button I could push to change the pace of living to "slow." There are moments you have as a family that you instantly know will define you as a unit, moments that you'll all preserve in your skulls and reminisce over when around the holiday table. This was one of those for us.

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We ran out of flags after the rain stopped. Together our troops had covered every headstone in our area, an older part of the cemetery on a high bluff overlooking the Mississippi. Our job done, we trekked back to our can holding hands.

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Click any photo for the caption; click here for the entire set. These are some of my favorite photos that I've taken.


Scouting is a spectacular experience for boys! They gain knowledge, respect and class.

Your photos are always awesome, but these are just....awesome-er. What a great way to introduce your boys to the real meaning of Memorial Day.

Those are great photos! Jefferson Barracks was once my favorite place to take pictures...something about those even rows of gravestones draws me to it. However, I hadn't taken anything there in years.

I wrote a bit about Memorial Day on Monday, and actually took an old picture (my favorite I've ever taken) OUT OF THE FRAME from my living-room to scan for the post! Ah, the good ol' days of film.

The place was packed on Monday, so I parked outside the park and walked in. It was a fitting place to try out the new camera and I was happy to see so many people there.

That's a great service the boy scouts perform! I also loved the part about wanting to slow down certain moments.

We did the same thing in Honolulu. It was a great experience!

Love your pictures!


What a great post! I had forgotten how sereen and peaceful Jefferson Barracks is on a rainy day. Thank you to Liam and all the scouts for what they did. I know I appreciate it very much, I have a grandfather and an aunt buried there and since I don't get home very often it makes me feel proud to know that they were honored on Memorial Day even when families are unable to be there themselves.

Also, what a great way to give away the Wii Fit, I wasn't sure how you were going to decide and you just took the most unbaised approach possibly. I'm sure the kids at Rankin Jordan will be so surprised and excited!

Most of my family is buried in a cemetary here in the city that is only open weekdays and Saturday until noon. I don't get to go visit as often as I like. My dad will go to JB, as have most of my uncles. I look at visiting cemetaries as taking time out of my life to remember my ancestors. Most of their homes are gone now or in the ghetto, so stopping in a peaceful park to pat the stone and say hi is a way to remember them.

Plus, I love cemetaries. When I travelled for my job a lot, I often stopped in small cemetaries to write up my reports. I always imagined that some of those lingering there might like a little company. And I'm pretty good company!

I have many family members buried at Jefferson Barracks and thought I live out of town and was not able to visit the cemetery this Memorial Day, I want to say thank you to you and your family for taking part in remembering and honoring those who served our country and have their final resting place there.

Cheeks!! Running in the rain, holding a bunch of our beloved flags, grinning, front teeth shining. What an awesome picture!

Dana - feel free to not put this through since it has nothing to do with the post, but I just started using twitter and replied @Mamalogues to your Liam/Foreigner tweet. If you aren't following my twitter stream - do you see that?

What a awesome thing to introduce your boys to! Are you planning on making it a tradition? I love the pictures. You are a talented writer and photographer as well.

I always skip Memorial day at JB due to the crowds. I do however, every June 6, (D-Day) lay flowers on the grave of a group of Paratroopers killed on D-Day in France (the wreck is depicted in the HBO mini-series Band of Brothers, you wanna cry and feel proud watch that series). I figure someone has to remember them. Anyway, the place is awe inspiring and your photo's capture the moment!

Beautiful photos, Dana. My Grandma Adele and Grandpa Norm are buried there.

Thank you to you and your boys for participating and for posting the pictures. My father passed away in January and is buried at Jefferson Barracks. I haven't been able to make it there yet to visit his grave (it's a long story, but he wasn't buried for more than a week after his funeral and I haven't been back to St. Louis since when it wasn't either snowing or raining) but my mom went for the first time on Sunday and took some wonderful pictures. It truly is amazing to see all of the graves decorated with their flags.

First--if I ever met Chris in real life, I'd have to resist the urge to squeeze his cheeks-he's like a larger sized Ewan!

Your photos are fabulous. My grandpa and dad are buried there only a few rows apart, even though their deaths are separated by 2 years. It has been a year since my dad's death and I have not been able to bring myself to visit. Thanks for honoring their memory.

Stunning pics. I really liked this post. The heavens opening to mourn the war dead is a particularly moving thought.

What kind of camera do you use?

Those shots are amazing; got me in the throat.

You create such beautiful imagery and your pictures intensify the reading experience so much so that I was caught off-guard by the tears that welled up. Thank you for sharing this meaningful experience and reminding us all of the true cost of the freedoms we so enjoy today.


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Dana asks: "Thanksgiving Traditions: Yours or Your Mother's?"