I am a part of all that I have touched and that has touched me. ~Thomas Wolfe
My most precious memory of my grandma, Charlotta Estella Seyb Mohr, is spending countless hours by her side at an impressive round oak pedestal table with animal claw feet. I adored her and enjoyed spending time at her home in rural Missouri. That was real easy to do since she lived about a mile where I grew up.
Family life centered on the heartbeat of the house. What she taught me remains part of my being. I close my eyes, and the table turns into a flower shop on Decoration Day (a day dating back to 1868). We tour her beautiful gardens and pick fragrant spring flowers such as peonies, poppies, irises, snowballs and bleeding hearts. Grandma prays nature will hold the rain for the weekend to preserve these fragile flowers. We make a list of loved ones whose graves we will visit and adorn. Then we arrange the flowers in vases and buckets.
Always Honor Your Loved Ones
“Always honor your loved ones,” she says. I learn that red poppies symbolize remembrance of those who have fallen in war. Grandma’s faith sustained her after losing her mother at age two and her younger brother in World War I at age twenty-two. I choose pink peonies to memorialize my great-grandmother Charlotta. Red poppies blaze on my great-uncle Rupert’s grave.
The Why Behind Red Poppies
When I was older, I learned more about the significance of the red poppy. In 1918, Moina Michael bought a bouquet of poppies and handed them out to businessmen at the New York YMCA because of the poignant effect the poem In Flanders Fields had on her. She asked them to wear the poppy as a tribute to the fallen Americans in World War I. She led a campaign that designated the poppy as the official flower of The American Legion in 1923.
During World War I, American soldiers were buried in the pastures and on the battlefields of Europe, where bright red poppies grew wild among the fresh graves. While caring for the wounded near one of the battlefields, a Canadian doctor, Lt. Col. John McCrae, jotted down these opening lines: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow/ Between the crosses, row on row. . .”
The American Legion Auxiliary is recognized as the world’s largest women’s patriotic service organization. Thousands of crepe paper poppies made by disabled and hospitalized veterans are given out for donations to benefit disabled veterans.
Video Reading of In Flanders Fields
In 2015, Legion Magazine and Leonard Cohen released a powerful video reading of In Flanders Fields on YouTube to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the poem by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. Cohen’s voice is accompanied by stirring imagery from the First World War and helps me to understand what my two heroic great-uncles experienced.
In Memory of My Great-Uncle Rupert Seyb
My great-uncle, Rupert Carl Seyb, enlisted in Sanborn, South Dakota, on June 5, 1917. He served as a private in Company F, 350th Infantry. 88th Division with American Expeditionary Forces. He was sent to Camp Funston, Kansas and Fort Dodge, Iowa for a short time. He sailed from Long Island, New York to France in July, 1918. He died due to valvular heart disease and influenza in Naix, France, on February 23, 1919, at twenty-six years, two months, sixteen days. He is buried at Saint Paul Cemetery near Kahoka, Missouri.
In sunny France
there came a chance
To test his soul in blood:
He didn’t stop–but o’er the top
He went–and he made good.
And that is why we dare not cry
As his brave soul passes on;
His name’s enrolled on Fame’s
Our glorious valiant son.
In Memory of My Great-Uncle Carl Roasa
My great-uncle, Carl A. Roasa, was inducted into the Army/Marine unit on July 5, 1917, in Kansas City, Missouri. He served overseas from May 20, 1918, until January 17, 1919, where he died in France of pneumonia at twenty-two years, ten months, eight days. His parents, Albert and Laura Roasa, bought land, planted trees and started Granger Cemetery for the burial of Carl Albert. He was the youngest of six children including five boys and one girl. I read in Carl’s war records that his mother was notified of his death. Although I never met my great-grandmother, I can picture her receiving this devastating news of her beloved son, and my heart breaks.
Carl’s memorial card included this beautiful James Whitcomb Riley poem:
I cannot say and I will not say
That he is dead—He is just away!
With a cheery smile and a wave of the hand,
He has wandered into an unknown land,
And left us dreaming how very fair
It needs must be, since he lingers there.
Mild and gentle, as he was brave
When the sweetest love of his life he gave.
Think of him as the same I say:
He is not dead—He is just away.
A Soldiers’ Memorial was established near the Scotland County Courthouse in Memphis, Missouri, in 1923, led by the Betsy Ross Club. Other organizations joined forces including Home Guards, Order of the Eastern Star, and Mothers of Soldiers. The names of the soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice from the area were chiseled on the memorial pillars. The honor roll of twenty-five soldiers included Carl A. Roasa. The engraving reads “In memoriam to the boys from Scotland County 1914 ~ World War ~ 1918, they gave their all for liberty and democracy.”
On this Memorial Day weekend, I pause to reflect on what my two great-uncles’ service and their ultimate sacrifice mean to my life, and I am deeply grateful.
In my mind’s eye today, grandma is watching me arrange pink peonies.
“Your bouquet is breathtaking,”
“Thank you grandma!”