Family gathers on Memorial Day to remember dead, celebrate living

mtheriault@adn.comMay 27, 2013 

They came to the graves bearing cases of Pepsi, seaweed salad and arrangements of plastic flowers that will never wilt.

The Tyone and Clewis families, a sprawling Tlingit clan with roots in Kake, convened under a birch tree whose leaves had abruptly turned green at Anchorage's Memorial Park Cemetery Monday.

They, like the dozens of other families visiting the downtown cemetery on Memorial Day, had come to remember the dead their own way.

Some families camped out at grave sites in plastic chairs, picnicking and singing hymns. Others arrived with buckets full of brooms, water and gardening supplies to quietly tidy their loved ones' plots.

The Clewis and Tyone family -- sisters, adopted sisters, cousins, sons, great-grandchildren included -- has gathered at the family plot every Memorial Day for two decades.

They view their picnic as a day-long affair, a way of turning tragedy and too-soon departures into something that knits the family closer together.

"It's our way of remembering all the family that has passed," said Lucille Clewis, whose husband, daughter and two grandsons are buried nearby.

Everyone sat around drinking coffee from thermoses and nibbling on pound cake, sandwiches and seaweed sent all the way from Kake.

The women sang a Tlingit lullaby to the baby of the gathering, 1-year-old Braden Clewis, while he wobbled around between gravestones. Lucille Clewis played a moose-hide drum bearing the symbol of the family's Eagle clan.

Part of the reason the family is so close is that the matriarchs have all lost a child, said Edna Charley.

"I think that's why we're included to support each other," she said.

Family members posed for pictures by the grave of Army veteran Anthony Ray Clewis Sr., who died in 2006 at 54.

Then they kneeled in front of the graves of Sissie Inga and her two young sons Nicolai, 4, and Anthony Ray, 2. The three died in a trailer fire in Muldoon in 1995.

Darryl Tyone stood close to the grave of his brother Allen Lee Tyone, who loved his family, his cassette collection, drinking Pepsi and professional wrestling. Tyone died in his sleep in 1999 at age 31.

When his brother died, the chaplain from the Anchorage Police Department commented on how quickly members of the family showed up to mourn together, Tyone said. That's how the family is, he said: Together in tragedy and often together on weekends for potlucks and bingo nights too.

He doesn't come any other time of year to the grave.

Coming alone, he said, "would be so hard."

He left a can of Pepsi in the grass as a small offering of remembrance.

 

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at mtheriault@adn.com or 257-4344.

 

 

 

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