Monday, April 27, 2009

Decoration Day

Growing up, our family and distant connections attended "Decoration Day." Here in the NW people have no idea what I'm talking about. Every 3rd Sunday in May, we'd picnic at the cemetery on my mother's side of the family. And, every 1st Sunday of June we'd do the same on my father's side. Both places were in the "backwoods" meaning there wasn't much of anythinhg nearby. It took an hour or so riding in the car to reach the destination. Sounds funny to most, but Decoration Day was normal to me.

Decoration Day was intended to remember, honor, and show respect toward "loved ones" who had made it to the "other side." In the rural South, many churches have their own cemeteries near the chapel. If your family member was connected to the church in some way, you could be buried in a plot for free.

Along the way, my mother and father would always point out where they were born (neither was born in a hospital). I would try to imagine their lives back then. Both places were near abandoned "mining" towns. They would exchange stories of people I never knew.

I looked forward to "good" eating, playing with cousins, and running and chasing all over the graveyard. Graves were covered with flower sprays and baskets. The grounds were colorful. The Baptist and Methodist churches would have afternoon "singings." You could hear the music through the open windows. The grownups would bring lawn chairs, folding tables, playpens, fly swatters, and delicious dishes. People dressed up in their finest and photos were snapped. Women wore corsages. If the flower(s) was white, it meant to all that her mother had passed away. If she wore a red corsage, her mother was still living. Parents would talk to 1st, 2nd 3rd cousins, and great aunts and uncles as they read all the tombstones pointing out all the connections. Of course as kids we didn't pay close attention. We were there to have fun. A few years back, I did some family history research and visited both sites, except this time it wasn't Decoration Day. I took pictures to document names and dates.

By the way, my mother was famous for her "strawberry cake," it was expected by everyone. If she didn't make it, it was a great disappointment. Some years she'd also make her "coconut" cake. My dad's sister made "out of this world" fried peach pies. My mother's sister could be counted on to bring ambrosia salad. My grandmother would bring a baked ham.

It was a great tradition, that unfortunately, my kids know nothing about. Makes me sad, really.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting. Sounds almost disturbing really. I personally have issues with eating anything after being around or near a graveyard or funeral home. So this tradition wouldn't have work for me.