Thursday, April 9, 2009

May Flower Memories


It was called Decoration Day when I was growing up. I suppose it was because we took flowers and flags and ribbons to the cemeteries to “decorate” the graves of our families and friends. Now most everyone calls the last weekend in May Memorial Day.

I could always tell when spring was on the way. The red stems and leaves of my grandmother’s peonies would pop up out of the ground looking kind of swiveled at first. Then they would start growing up straight and green, and just before Decoration Day they would be he most beautiful blooms I had ever seen. There were white, pale pink, fuchsia and red ones all ready to be cut and put in the canning jars and vases to take to the cemeteries. Her red multi-bloom roses, bearded iris (Grandmama called them flags), and delicate lilacs were also blooming in May. We would make pretty bouquets with all the different flowers and tie ribbons into bows around the “vases.” Then we gathered cardboard boxes to put them in and newspapers to place around them so they wouldn’t bump together or spill water in the trunks of the cars. When the “Lexington bunch” arrived at Grandmama’s, we would start our caravan through all the local cemeteries, then on to Scott and Owen counties, picking up more members at each place until we all ended up at a beautiful rock church, somewhere around Owen County and have a wonderful picnic. Everyone brought food and soft drinks to share. All the children would run and play and reacquaint with cousins, some of whom we hadn’t seen for a year. Sometimes I long for the days, when all my cousins and aunts and uncles were still alive and happy and running and playing in the grass in the cemeteries. I guess maybe it sounds a little morbid to some people, but the children and adults had a good time and made some good memories.

I don’t know if any of our family still goes to all the cemeteries on Decoration Day. I know I don’t. Sometimes when I am in Lexington, I stop by the cemetery where Grandmama, my aunt, uncle and several other family members are buried. I rarely get to Shelbyville to visit the grave of my baby, but even worse, I pass the cemetery where my daddy is buried twice a day and don’t even stop there. I know the spirits of my loved ones are not really in the graves, but sometimes it might just feel good to be there to reminisce and do a little reflecting on things and old times.

I never see a rose, an iris, or a peony that I don’t think of Grandmama and all the pretty flowers that grew in her yard and were carried to the cemeteries each May. It makes me kind of sad to think back though and realize that so many of my cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents that we would meet in the cemeteries every year are buried in those same places, and I wonder if anyone ever takes May flowers to decorate their graves. Maybe I will just do that myself this year.

April Assignment: May Flowers
By: Paula Pinkston
April 9, 2009


  1. What wonderful memories, Paula! I didn't realize Memorial Day was also called "decoration day." Peonies have always been one of my favorites because my Granny also grew them - ant plants as my hubby calls them. And I still use canning jars as vases for my flowers! I also enjoy the bearded iris, and my Granny also called them "flags." Both my mom and my mom-in-law get Mother's Day flowers from my garden every year - peonies, iris, daisies, all the pretty flowers of May.

    Nice job - this would make a great story for Mercer's Magazine.

  2. This brings back memories for me as well, Paula. My parents on Decoration Day take flowers and visit the graves of their loved ones that have passed on. I went only one year, my family lives in central WV, not terribly far, but far enough. We took my then teenage daughter, who did not enjoy it, and a picnic lunch. My dad is 81 this year and my mother four years younger. I am afraid this custom will pass with them.


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