Memorial Day is my very favorite time of year to visit southwest Iowa. About this time each year, the peonies bloom, so people have planted peony bushes in the cemeteries in the area. One cemetery, Nyman, outdoes the others in terms of the flowers. Nyman was formerly a small Swedish settlement with a small country church and accompanying cemetery where a number of my early Swedish ancestors who settled the area are buried. Now only the church and cemetery remain, but the area retains the name.
The peony bushes cover the entire cemetery, and when they bloom, as they had the day I was there, the place is a vision to behold. The poufs of white, magenta, hyacinth blue, and barely pink bloom fat and full, the air thick with their scent. Because of the flowers, my brother, son, and grandparents lingered there more than in the others even though the family buried there are rather distant relation. The magnificent display of peony fantasia doesn’t dissuade many from putting the fake plastic flowers—the kind one of my grandmothers actually preferred to the real thing—on their loved ones’ graves. Not many burials take place there now and most of the graves are quite old, but still people come and honor them.
The day was cool and overcast, the fields already showing sprouts of corn and soybeans, the yards and hillsides flush with the bright green of springtime and recent rain. We had escorted my grandparents around the local cemeteries and after dropping them off we decided to stop at a nearby friend’s house for a visit. As we left, we stood on the porch at the front of the house which sits atop a hill, and I could look over acres and acres of green fields and, as cliché as it sounds, rambling country roads. The sun was setting behind one of the hills which gave the landscape a sort of dream-like haze, and I wondered, just briefly, if life would have been this serene if I had stayed “home” to play out my life. I wondered if in my seeking out the world beyond my small town I had given up something precious.