Another Day in the Country
© Another Day in the Country
“Do you want to go?” my sister asked me.
“It’s tradition,” I said, grinning at my sibling. “We used to drive a long ways, fly a long ways to be here, and now we’re here!”
So, we went out to Lewis Cemetery for Memorial Day services last week.
It seemed quieter at the cemetery this year, fewer cars. But it was a beautiful day. The wind wasn’t blowing. The stalwarts clustered behind available seating, chatting.
When I say “stalwarts,” I mean names you would recognize, names that I know. The Deineses were present, the Brunners, Schuberts, Hanschus, Heisers, Fikes, Shields — names that go way back to the beginnings of Marion County and the town of Ramona sprouting up beside railroad tracks.
If I said Wick was there or Gilbert was sitting on the first row, those names would mean nothing to most of our readers. But those other names are stalwartly familiar.
As we bowed our heads in prayer at the beginning of the service, I gave thanks for the stalwarts. These are good people, “the salt of the earth,” as my dad said upon his return to Ramona.
A lot of the older generations of stalwarts no longer are sitting in those folding chairs.
We remember them on Memorial Day when we stand quietly while “Taps” are played even though they didn’t serve in the armed services.
They fought the good fight in their own sphere, making Ramona a better place, which in turn made the wider world a better place.
I’ve often wished that my Grandpa and Grandma Ehrhardt had a tombstone marking their sojourn in Ramona, but much to Gramm’s delight they’d already left the farm and moved to be near my aunt Verna Pritz in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Later, when Grandpa died, he was buried in Lincoln. When Gramm eventually died, she was in Marion County, near her oldest daughter Naomi Fike, but as custom dictated, she was buried in Nebraska with Grandpa.
Honestly, she probably would have preferred that. She was tired of living in the country.
There’s no one left in Lincoln to care about their graves or even remember them. But in Ramona, when I sit in Lewis Cemetery waiting for the service to begin, I look across the road at what I call Grandpa’s barn and what I knew as Grandma’s house and remember them, even though the Rieffs have lived there as long as I’ve been back in town.
During the Depression, the larger Ehrhardt family skedaddled off to California to grow table grapes in Lodi.
Maybe there they are known as the stalwarts. They were a big family, and there’s even a street in Lodi named after the Ehrhardts. But in Ramona, their name is long gone from the roster of old timers.
It was the Shields family whose flag was flying as the speaker stood at the lectern in his priestly backwards collar and with a gracious smile invited us to remember.
He and his family, with eight of their nine children missionaries in Africa, talked to us, sang for us, inspired us, even amazed us — coming back from such a far off place to Ramona, Kansas, population 100 plus or minus.
During the benediction, I was paying attention to what the minister read. He called on God to bless us all, to choose carefully our elected officials.... I was scrambling in my mind to remember all the things he was asking of a deity.
As the prayer went on, inadvertently my mind went back to when I was a child and I’d hear a minister praying. These spontaneous prayers were what my dad called “prayers from the heart,” impromptu appeals, rarely read or planned carefully.
Some of them I dubbed announcement prayers.
“Oh, Lord, bring us all back together for the afternoon service at 4 o’clock and bless us with volunteers for the work bee.…”
The list would go on, ending sometimes (if the preacher was very organized and planning ahead) with a supplication to “bless the food we are about to receive in the parish hall right after this service. Amen.”
As the prayer continued, I began wondering whether some of the requests asked for from God weren’t in fact our responsibility.
We are the ones, present and accounted for, who are called to be caretakers of this land. We are the ones called to guard our freedom and hold ourselves and politicians accountable. We are the ones who’ve been mucking things up.
We can’t relinquish our responsibility — which, at times, our prayers inadvertently seem to do.
We hand over our problems to however we see God, asking a diety to take care of things, to solve the conflicts, when we have the mind, the will, and the wherewithal to solve many of these problems ourselves.
Could it be that we are called to be the answer to our own prayers?
Wherever God’s name is evoked, may we listen carefully and respond to bless each other, resolving to be a stalwart, as we spend another day in the country.