The hands behind the memorials
Fingers were flying May 27 at the Farmington VFW.
Seated at long rows of tables in the club's back room, five women were busy wrapping the wire stems of VFW and American Legion poppies around evergreen branches. They spent hours creating the wreaths, decorations that many will never notice. They do it out of a sense of duty. They do it because they like getting together with women they might not otherwise see all that often. And they do it because, well, that's the way it's been done for a long as any of them can remember.
The women, members of the VFW and Legion auxiliaries, gather every year in the week before Memorial Day to make hundreds of the miniature wreaths to decorate the graves of veterans in Farmington-area cemeteries. The clubs take turns hosting the events.
The gatherings used to be bigger, but as the number of graves to decorate has grown, the number of women working on the project has shrunk. The women who gathered this year estimated they needed close to 400 wreaths for four local cemeteries.
"Every one of them has got to be looking good," said Erica McGuire, a longtime member of the wreath-making group. "It's going to be a long night."
Making the wreaths isn't hard, but it's exacting. The evergreen branches have to look just right.
None of the women who gathered last week knew where the wreath tradition started. They're not aware of other communities in the area that use similar decorations. They just know this is the way Farmington has done it for as long as any of them can remember. For some of the women that's 40 years or more.
So, every year they get together. They pick their branches and shape them as best they can. They wrap the wire stems of the two poppies around each one and create tidy piles of the finished products. They talk. They laugh. They might even have a beer.
The women who come back year after year do it out of a sense of obligation, or for an opportunity to get together with friends. Most have strong military connections in their families. McGuire has had two husbands who served in the military. Diane Steele, another member of the group, worked under photographs of her father and her grandfather, both members of the Farmington VFW. She said she passed up an opportunity for dinner at Red Lobster to make wreaths.
"It's a service of love," said Bev Ersfeld, a former president of the VFW Auxiliary and a regular in the wreath crew. "We all have veterans we're married to or were married to."
Ersfeld's husband, Ron, is the current commander of the VFW. All of the greenery used to make the wreaths was cut from bushes around their home.
"I'm doing it for every one of them who was out there in the cemeteries," McGuire said.