I was at my Grandmother's home on "Decoration Day".
I knew the day to be "Memorial Day" but since that was a name change in the late 1960's my grandmother paid this "no nevermind" preferring to maintain loyalty to the original label.
I had noticed in the week leading up to this day there had been an unusual amount of telephoning in my Grandmother's life. In her house there was one land line phone with a very long cord so she could move all around the house and not be "tied to the wall" in a single location. It worked well for her but required astuteness on the part of those sharing the house with her. The unaware could find themselves kissing the hardwoods without notice. Since I had been stellar at jump rope on the school playground I was not often the one face down on the floor with depleted lungs.
In addition to all the telephone traffic there were numerous trips to the grocers, butcher, baker. I was dispatched to the alley way garage to find and organize for transport baskets, gloves, hats, gardening implements and old blankets. Eventually I got around to asking why we were all so busy?
" It's for Decoration Day."
" Isn't that a parade with horse drawn cannon and old men in funny uniforms?"
" Mind your manners Fishy."
"Ladies do not say 'huh?' and it is impolite to disrespect the dead who suffered for you"
" Yes ma'am"
She went on to explain on Decoration Day every one got dressed up to attend a 9am Mass
in honor of "the Fallen", followed by a progressive Brunch from house to house of family members on all sides. Most of the telephoning and other busyness was about who would be progressing and who would be hosting, the menus, the flowers and the all important question of who would be wearing what.
" Well then, why do you keep sending me out into the alley to organize and pack all the gardening stuff?"
" The cemetery"
" Did you say picnic?"
" Really Fishy, have you never been to a Decoration Day before?"
" Apparently not. I am sure I would remember picnicking in a graveyard "
" Watch that mouth Fishy!"
" Yes ma'am"
Exceeding all expectations I loved this day. The Mass and Brunch were pretty typical. Not much different from a normal Sunday schedule. Since this was in the days before the South allowed boozing and retailing on Sundays most of the time we had family gatherings or went visiting.
RoseLawn is a beautiful old fashioned cemetery with huge moss draped oaks and family plots defined by azalea hedges, roses, camelias and statuary. This was long before the days of flat markers and plastic cone shaped floral insults. These were gardens of eternal resting.
When we reached the cemetery we joined a long winding caravan of cars slowly making the way to a chosen spot. We were bound for the grave of my Grandmothers second husband
(not my grandfather). He was not one of the "fallen" from military confrontations he had fallen to heart disease a decade before. His placement is graced with a life size angel statue so it was easy to find. We left the picnic in the car, but unloaded all the gardening gear and hiked over to the grave site. Hundreds of other families were doing the same thing. The common purpose was to first groom then decorate the grave sites followed by story telling and honoring of the occupants with food and music. It was a very festive and very social occasion. There was friendliness toward the neighbors families there for the same purpose. There was the sharing of the stories of the departed; some riotously funny, some piercingly sad. Once the headstones and statues had been scrubbed new, the graves weeded, pruned, clipped, and nourished; we hauled all the debris and tools back to the cars then returned with the blankets, our picnics, fresh flowers, flags and musical instruments.
Even those looking forlorn and abandoned on the perimeter of the grounds. If there was a site with no family there, then those in proximity did the grooming and the decorating. And the talking. I don't mean talking about those resting on the other side of the grass, I mean talking to them. In the South, talking to the dead is a common practice. Now that my Mother is gone I completely understand this. I talk to her often. Out loud. Which is a concern for Blowfish. He is a Yankeeman who does not walk around talking to his parents. He thinks about them, prays for them, but he does not talk to them as if they were right there with him. I suspect he thinks I am a bit "off ". If he had ever been to a Decoration Day in the South he would not think anything of my chatting up the departed.
"It is best to carve love into hearts before granite"
"My Country Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty."
May this forever be true.
God Bless You Each and Every One