Grandma was loading things in the car. I was by the door, ready to jump in, when she quickly turned and walked to the road.
She was taking pictures of Mt. Hood in the distance.
“What’s up?” I asked.
She turned to go back to the car. “There’s someone on the other side of that mountain I want to see.”
“Anyone I know?”
“Past life, Petey. Let’s go!”
We drove through new canyon country, which made us both smile as we remembered where we used to live. Grandma had been fussing that she forgot to change out of the rubber boots she wears around the farm, but when we hit some rain through the Columbia River Gorge, she realized it would all work out.
Driving through Portland, she wound around some streets I didn’t recognize, but she seemed to know where she was going.
“What is this place?” I barked. There was lots of room to run.
“It’s Willamette National Cemetery, Petey. It’s where they bury heroes. And you can’t get out of the car because it is sacred ground. They don’t want dogs running around.”
Normally I try to talk Grandma out of her rules, but the tone in her voice told me to drop it.
Before we left The Farm, Grandma had cut some roses and made two flower arrangements she carefully stored in the car. On the way, we stopped at a store and she returned with several packages of small flags.
“What are you going to do with those flags?” I asked her.
“Let’s line the farm driveway with them for Memorial Day,” she explained, “except for the two I need.”
“That will look cool!” I wagged my tail.
Grandma carried the one vase and a flag WAAAAAY out in the big yard. She set one down and spent some time talking and smiling. Then she looked up and cupped her hands around her mouth.
Forgetting she was in a solemn cemetery, she yelled, “Thank you!” Then she was embarrassed.
One of the cemetery workers looked at her, and then the flag. He called back with a smile, “Ain’t she beautiful!”
Grandma came back to the car for the second vase and flag.
I was puzzled. “Who are these for?”
“Remember Aunt Lynn?”
“The first one was for her husband, Hal. He was a friend of mine, too.”
“What about the vase in your hands?”
“My husband is buried here as well.”
“Past life,” I remembered her saying. Past life, as in pre-Petey Podengo. There’s a lot about Grandma I don’t know.
She marched back down the hill and set down the flowers and the flag. She moved them around until they were just right.
Grandma talked for quite a bit and wiped her eyes. It began to rain. She stood up straight and marched back to the car.
“Were Richard and Hal buried at the same time?” I asked her.
“No,” she said quietly.
“Isn’t that weird that you and Aunt Lynn are best friends and those two guys are within shouting distance?”
Grandma started laughing. “Yeah. We joke that they are wondering what we’re up to.”
“What are those squares?”
“Those are the grave markers of men and women willing to sign a contract to defend and protect the United States of America.”
“Isn’t everyone willing to do that?”
“Actually, no. That’s why they are so special. They’re heroes. Well, at least my heroes. Every one of them.”
As we pulled off, we stopped to chat with the cemetery workers. They said there would be no flags at the graves like there usually was. The Boy Scouts usually do it and the “social distancing” rules won’t let them.
“Grandma, we have to do something!” I barked.
“If these are American heroes, they should all have a flag.”
“That would be hundreds of flags and it’s time for us to head home.”
“What about the flags you bought for The Farm?”
Grandma was quiet for a few minutes. “There are only 13 left.”
“Yeah, but that’s enough!”
“What is your plan?”
“Let’s drive around, and when we see someone who is going to set flowers on someone’s grave like you did, we’ll give them a flag.”
With it raining off and on, there weren’t too many people. I told Grandma to park at the gate and then we’d follow whoever came in.
“Petey, that’s kind of strange. That’s like stalking people in a federal cemetery. It’s probably against the law.”
“Let’s do it!”
After about two more hours, all the flags were gone. I waited in the car while Grandma would go explain what was up and ask if they wanted a flag.
Everyone said yes, and some gave Grandma a hug.
“Can we go home now, Petey? I’m tired,” she said as she buckled her seat belt.
“Sure! Thanks for helping me out.”
She smiled and scratched my chin. “You’re a real patriot, Petey Podengo!”
We sang “God Bless America” on the way home.