Category Archives: Illness

Roadside Memorials

A mixture of sadness and curiosity washes over me every time I see a street corner adorned with a cross, teddy bear, and flowers. I have seen these roadside memorials throughout my life, but have never known anyone who personally created one. How did this practice begin? Who makes them? What is their function? Fortunately, Gary E.A. Saum’s folklore project, “Roadside Memorials: Material Focus of Love, Devotion, and Remembrance,” helps satisfy my curiosity.

Saum reports differing accounts for the origin of roadside memorials. One source traces it to the 1847 piling of stones tradition called descansos (resting places) during the Taos rebellion in New Mexico. Another source attributes it to a Mexican tradition of marking the death of a loved one with a pile of stones. Yet other evidence points to the centuries-old tradition in Latin American cultures where offerings to Catholic saints were placed at an altar or statue. Such an act is similar to roadside memorials whereby the “offerings” are left to memorialize the victim instead of giving thanks to saints. Therefore, the tradition “appear[s] to have started in the new world either as an imported Spanish tradition or as a tradition borrowed from the Spanish by the Indians” (Saum 257).

Centuries later, this tradition is currently found at the site of fatal car accidents. In Saum’s fieldwork, he interviewed grieving family members who have a roadside memorial. It was constructed the night of 17-year-old Eric’s death when Eric’s high school buddies nailed together a wooden cross, placed it at the spot of the accident, and the spot was quickly filled with mementos from other friends. About two months later, Eric’s mother added luminaries and pledged to light them every night to show her love and devotion for her son. Similar roadside memorials are seen throughout the U.S., Mexico and numerous other countries. Accordingly, making them is not limited to people with a certain nationality. Rather, they are made across cultures by “friends, family members, and loved ones to remember someone lost to them in a traffic fatality” (256).

For some people, roadside memorials represent a holy ground; for some, they are a location for prayer vigil. Yet, others consider them warnings against drinking and driving. As seen in Saum’s fieldwork, Eric’s mother views it as a place to show her dedication to Eric’s memory. Thus, a roadside memorial’s function is “as varied and individual as the person it commemorates” (258).

Saum’s folklore project helped me better understand the tradition of roadside memorials and especially about the people who create them. The heart-wrenching story, as told by the interviewees in Saum’s fieldwork, helped me relate to someone who would create a roadside memorial. Especially, I was touched by the mother’s unwavering dedication to light the candles every day. Overall, I can see how roadside memorials are about “love, devotion, and remembrance,” as this project is fittingly entitled.

Saum, Gary E.A. “Roadside Memorials: Material Focus of Love, Devotion, and Remembrance.” Living Folklore: An Introduction to the Study of People and Their Traditions. By Martha Sims and Martine Stephens. 2nd ed. Logan: Utah State UP, 2011. 255-69. Print.

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Posted by on January 27, 2017 in Family, Illness, memorial


Sole Sisters

joannAs many of you know, this past January 4th, my sister-in-law, JoAnn, lost her battle against cancer.  She had non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.  As the holidays are approaching, I cringe when I remember what our family went through a year ago.  Suffice it to say, it was an extremely difficult time and something no one should have to endure.  Sadly,  more than 785,000 Americans are living with leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.  This year alone, 135,520 people will be diagnosed with one of the blood cancers; that’s one person every five minutes! Tragically, 52,320 individuals will die from these diseases this year. Among children, leukemia remains the leading cause of death from cancer.

The good news is that there’s still hope for people with cancer.  I am happy to say that a good friend, Michele, is now in remission from the same terrible disease that took JoAnn.   It doesn’t have to be a death sentence!

Michele has gracefully fought this awful disease and even played soccer during her treatment.  Michele – you are an inspiration!!  Now, Michele wants to give back to others who are going through the same thing.  She, and her sister Melissa, have joined forces as  Sole Sisters and signed up for the half-marathon with Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Team-in-Training.    I totally support you, Sole Sisters, and I appreciate your sacrifices as you take on this challenge  (especially when you run in the snow this winter).  My hope is that everyone who reads this will also support you in your endeavor – every little bit helps.  I’m considering lacing up and joining you — we’ll see.

I’d love to hear from other cancer survivors.  It’s always great to hear these stories of hope.



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Posted by on November 16, 2009 in Illness


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H1N1 Vaccine — Yea or Nay?

Did that person just spray H1N1 Influenza (swine flu) all over my shirt? Every sneeze and cough is starting to be suspect these days. Will I get it next? Worse yet, will my family and friends get it? These concerns are on a lot of people’s minds lately. In my case, it’s no surprise, since I work at an elementary school. It’s an ideal place for picking up germs, in the best of times. Many children sneeze and cough all over the place and, lucky me, sometimes I’m in close proximi ty to such sprayings.

According to the World Health Organization, 340,000 people have gotten the H1N1 Influenza and 4,100 people have died from it, worldwide. That’s nothing to sneeze at.  (Couldn’t help the pun).   Kidding aside, all of this mswine akes many people consider taking the H1N1 vaccine. Just this past week, the first doses arrived in Michigan. Health care workers will be vaccinated first and eventually, the vaccine should be available to everyone.

Is the vaccine safe? There is an overwhelming amount of information about the H1N1 vaccine on the internet and I’m still taking it all in. At this point, I am leaning toward taking it. However, before I make a final decision, I’d love to hear from others who’ve decided.

Will you or your family take the vaccine?  What was your deciding factor?   Thanks in advance.

~~ Maggie


Posted by on October 13, 2009 in Illness


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