According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama website, Decoration Day is “an annual observance at many privately owned Southern graveyards, during which families gather to clean up the graveyard, reconnect with family and honor the memories of their ancestors.”
Although people also put out fresh flowers at public cemeteries and honor the deceased in other parts of the country, yes, the weeks around Mother’s Day and Memorial Day have traditionally been a big deal here in the South.
Of course the events aren’t really for the benefit of the deceased. Unless you think they have nothing better to do in the Great Beyond than look down to make observations like, “See! I told you he’d spring for the cheap flowers from Dollar Tree! Pay up! Oops. Gambling again. Guess I’m being relocated to the OTHER place...”
No, the events are to help us get in touch with our roots, ease our consciences, listen to solemn speeches and maybe engage in a little healthy competition, as in “A single wreath? Guess I love my family more than you love y - Junior! Quit urinating in the urn. Get your stupid butt in the car with your sister, What’s-Her-Name.”
It’s amazing the bonds that can be formed over the years at Decoration Day ceremonies. (“What??? You have deceased relatives, too? Get outta here! And you have 46 chromosomes and put your pants on one leg at a time? What a small world! I’ll bet you’re an ‘innie,’ too. What? An ‘outie’??? Put down that potato salad, stranger.”)
Looking at tombstones going back 150 or 200 years can be a sobering experience. Of course a pot of coffee and a cold shower can be a sobering experience, too - without having to face poison oak, rattlesnakes and the guy coming around for donations.
Spending time at the graves helps us ponder eternity - especially on Game Day, when SOMEONE is meticulously fine-tuning the chrysanthemums and roses. (“Great-aunt Harriet, I know you couldn’t even spell OCD, but thanks for making me who I am.”)
We must cherish the traditions while they last. Don’t think that politically correct meddlers won’t mess with a sacred spot like a country cemetery. One of your ancestors may have carved a (gasp!) crescent moon instead of a rainbow symbol on his outhouse door. Watch out or your racist great-great-grandpa could be replaced with Harriet Tubman.
Individuals buried beneath time-weathered tombstones become more and more abstract as generations come and go. It’s important for adults to explain to the youngsters, “Why is the person buried here so important? Without them you wouldn’t have your weak chin, your beady eyes, your susceptibility to diabetes, your deep and abiding fear of Yankees...Uh, on second thought, you can set down the rake and go back to your video game.”
As families move away or discover new distractions, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain a continuity of enthusiasm for decoration days. Maintenance of the tiny family cemetery that my father, my brother and I used to mow was long ago taken over by the city.
We must keep the younger generation motivated so that someday THEIR grandchildren will honor those who went before. When you see kids zoning out over recitations of “Great-grandpa and great-grandma used to eat cornbread and poke sallet and fried squirrel...,” shift back to relevancy by adding, “...but now they eat BRAINS! BRAINS!”
Danny welcomes email responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades”