Community Columns

Roadside memorials show love, remind us to slow down

Earlier this summer, I went on a bicycle trip through the Black Hills in western South Dakota with my brother and several friends. We stayed in different locales each night as we progressed along the bike trail. This allowed some sightseeing.

Along with all the other features you see while traveling through the Midwest was one you don't associate with the natural beauty of the area; one that works as a reminder to all those who are passing by of the importance of safe driving.

I am talking about "X Marks the Spot" signs.

These 18-inch square signs contain a big red "X" and are set on end to mark the spot where a fatal accident has occurred along the roadway. When I first saw them, I thought about their effectiveness in reminding passing motorists of being more cautious. Too bad we don't have similar reminders in our area.

But wait, we do have such reminders -- not as formal as the "X Marks the Spot" signs, but every bit as effective. I'm talking about the memorials placed by friends and relatives of those who have died along our roads. We call them roadside memorials.

They can be found just about everywhere we travel. Each one is unique as to the loss suffered by loved ones. They vary in style and content, some quite elaborate, others very simple. The content, dedication to keeping them up and their location often makes them impossible to be overlooked.

I have seen some that are placed in heavily traveled locations with limited access. The locations of some of these create the impression that whoever put them in place did so at some risk to themselves.

I have stopped at several such memorials, more out of curiosity than anything else, but I have always come away touched by the thought of the loss sustained by those responsible for placing them by the road.

There might be a religious artifact, usually a cross, along with perhaps a picture, personal effects and artificial flowers. Some are groomed better than others, but that may be due to time constraints rather than a loss of respect. They are different, but yet they have a universal message.

Many of these memorials have been in place for long periods. Road maintenance seems to work around them and is completed without disturbing them. That most, if not all, of these memorials are on public right of ways presents a further service to the community. They provide a smooth bridge and accommodation, if you will, between those who feel any government involvement with religion is prohibited and those who feel religious expression transcends government control of any kind.

If you don't have the time or inclination to stop to look at one of these memorials, hopefully you will take a few moments as you pass by to reflect on their purpose and meaning and to drive more cautiously.

Bultena, a retired Merced County deputy district attorney, is a former visiting editor. Contact him at