CANNON CITY on Memorial Day is about as grassroots Americana as you’ll get.
Here locals and those rooted to this land gather in a country cemetery for an annual observance which began some nine decades ago as “Decoration Day.”
While a Death March and marching students and lilac wreaths and a school picnic are no longer a part of the observance, it remains firmly patriotic, firmly established as a tradition in unincorporated Cannon City near Faribault.
I came here with my husband on Monday because we’d come here last Memorial Day and were so impressed and moved by the experience that we wanted to attend again.
It is the simple, unpretentious, down-to-earth patriotic feel of this under-the-trees, between-the-tombstones, informal program that appeals to me.
Here Steve Bonde blasts “The Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America” and 40 voices sing “America, the Beautiful,” “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
You cannot help but feel connected to your fellow Americans and to those who fought for freedom while you stand here, wind whipping song sheets, singing “Let music swell the breeze, ring from all the trees Sweet freedom’s song…”
You cannot help but feel American pride as you place your hand across your heart, turn your eyes toward the American flag flying high above the cemetery gate and recite “The Pledge of Allegiance.”
You cannot help but ponder the deep sorrow of families, the sacrifices of so many as the names of soldiers are read: Samuel, Ezekiel, William, Walter…
You cannot help but sense the spirits of the dead as 18-year-old Kathleen Kanne slides a bow across her violin in a soul-touching rendition of “Gavotte in G Minor” by J.S. Bach.
And then as Kathleen reads a tribute she’s written, you contemplate the wisdom of her words: “Cannon City Cemetery is a patch of land that lives because of the dead.”
And later, when you talk to this college freshman, you admire her determination to become more involved with the cemetery association after attending the Memorial Day service for the first time in 2011. She was visiting her father’s grave then—he died unexpectedly at age 58—and was impressed enough by the program to return and participate.
You cannot help but appreciate Cannon city native Jean Pederson who presents a history of “In Flanders Fields” before reciting “In Flanders Fields the poppies blow between the crosses row on row…”
You cannot help but feel grateful for freedom as Cannon City Township Board member Preston Bauer, on the spot, steps up to read The Gettysburg Address: “…these dead shall not have died in vain.”
You cannot help but place yourself in the shoes of a young soldier at war as Deb Moriarity reads the “Soldier’s Psalm,” Psalm 91: “…He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day…”
Then, as Steve Bonde, stands at the edge of the cemetery next to a tilled field and closes the program with the mournful sounding of taps, you cannot help but feel a deep sense of grief rush over you in remembrance of all who sacrificed themselves for their country, for freedom.
© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling