Tooele resident Jerel Johnson didn’t ride an ATV this weekend — he didn’t have time.
“It’s not just a barbecue holiday,” he said. Rather, his family, like thousands of others, takes the weekend to visit and decorate the graves of relatives scattered all across the state.
It’s a tradition that spans several generations in his family, he said, and at least 65 years as best anyone can remember. And they not only visit graves in Tooele, but also travel as far away as Kamas on an errand that regularly takes all day on Memorial Day and, occasionally, can even span multiple weekends.
But it’s important to Johnson that the family recognize its pioneer heritage, its military veterans, and numerous others.
“They make up who we are today,” he said.
In Grantsville, while visiting his grandfather’s grave, Johnson shared pictures with his extended family.
“It’s good to share these memories with the kids who didn’t know him,” said Billie Kaye Perczac, a Syracuse resident.
“It makes them feel like a real person,” agreed Ashley Perczac from Salt Lake City.
Though grave decorating is far from unique as traditions go, it seems more popular in Tooele County than in other parts of the county, said Mary Ruth Hammond, a Grantsville resident with roots in the state of Georgia. Places like Vernon seem to have more Memorial Day visitors at the cemetery than they do residents, she said.
But while tidying flowers at the gravesite of her twin grandchildren who were both stillborn earlier this year, Hammond can understand why.
“It means a lot to be able to come here and decorate their grave,” she said.
The act of taking care of the gravesite has helped the family heal from the loss, she said, replacing grief with a sense of peace.
Sandy McCluskey, a Grantsville resident, echoed similar sentiments about Memorial Day. She stopped by the Grantsville cemetery Monday morning to tend to the grave of one of her best friends.
She wanted to decorate the gravesite “to honor her, and to make the grave beautiful for her,” McCluskey said. She had additional gravesites she planned to visit later in the day as well.
“We miss them all, so it’s a nice time,” she said.
While many visitors in the Grantsville City Cemetery on Monday were from Grantsville, several others had traveled from Salt Lake, Utah Valley, or event further to be close to loved ones who had passed on. For Janet Bates, a Bountiful resident, the trip had special significance as she strove to carry on a tradition her husband had founded.
Before he died, her husband used to visit the Grantsville cemetery to place flowers on his parents’ grave. Seven years later, Bates carries on the tradition, bringing her children and grandchildren to hear stories of their ancestors and bringing a few special flowers.
“My husband loved gladiolus,” she said. “We always had gladiolus in our yard, so I always bring him some.”