Today marks the start of the Memorial Day weekend, a respite for many working Americans.
It's a favorite weekend for multiple reasons.
For one thing, Memorial Day weekend signals the unofficial beginning of summer.
Swimming pools are opening. The boating season is getting underway, which is no small event in a river town like Quincy, and barbecue grills of all shapes and sizes will be spewing tantalizing smoke all across the landscape.
This weekend is a time for double-headers, picnics, fishing, gardening and Indy 500 auto racing.
In Quincy, it's also the time for Gus Macker 3-on-3 basketball games to fill the downtown's streets with noise and activity.
As most local schools get ready to close out the academic year, this is also the season for class trips. That means places like The Quincy Herald-Whig and Hannibal's Mark Twain attractions have been bustling lately with student tours.
There's one other timeless tradition associated with Memorial Day weekend. It involves visiting the graves of loved ones.
This is standard practice for many families. Parents will take their kids with them to cemeteries to put out flowers and tidy up the burial spots of family members and friends, stopping along the way to reflect on memories of those now gone.
As a kid, I always enjoyed these trips to the cemetery. I'd go running around exploring different gravestones while my parents would tend to the flower-laying chores. I really didn't know any of the people buried in the cemeteries back then, so for me it was more like a frolic through a pretty park.
Years later, my perspective has changed. My parents are gone, and now I find myself -- along with my wife -- taking over the roles our own parents used to play.
We occasionally visit cemeteries involving both branches of our family tree. We are now the ones stopping to leave flowers and paying our respects while our kids go roaming amid the headstones.
I still enjoy these occasional forays to the cemetery. It's always nice to stand close and cherish the memories of people who were special in our lives -- whether it's a parent, grandparent, sibling, cousin or a favorite uncle who made you laugh.
It's even nice to visit the burial grounds of unfamiliar people on my wife's side of the family and learn about inherited relatives I never met.
As the keeper of our family's tree, I find these trips illuminating in many ways. It's one thing to read the name of a distant relative on a genealogical chart. It's another to stand at the foot of that person's grave and sense an invisible family tie.
In recent years, trips to the cemetery have become genealogical search missions. With camera in hand, we can snap pictures of gravestones and bring the information back home to add more details to the family history.
With so many fun activities being planned for the long Memorial Day weekend, it's always nice to pause for a moment, take a breath, and ponder the generational connections that brought us where we are today.
Then, finally, it's time to fire up the grill. Let's eat!