Decoration Day: A Memorial Day Tribute
Updated: Sep 11, 2019
Today is Memorial Day, a day as Americans we pause to reflect and honor those military personnel who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. Along with this sacred tradition is another ritual that many in Kentucky and parts down South observe along with Memorial Day, and that is known as Decoration Day. (Without doing extensive research on the topic, I am unsure as to whether this practice goes on in other parts of the country as well. So please write to us and tell us if you know!)
My parents are both from Eastern Kentucky, having moved first to Louisville and then to Lexington shortly after they were married. They make annual pilgrimages, however, back to their respective areas to "decorate" the graves of their kin. This process, to an outsider or even a know-it-all teenager as I once was, seems completely bizarre. Why on earth would you take a whole day to drive crazy, winding roads to traipse up the side of a mountain (okay, maybe just a very steep hill) and put silk flowers (not cheap, by the way) on the graves that no one even sees except maybe once a year? Well, I'll tell you. It's out of respect and tradition.
In their article, "Decoration Day: A Memorable Tradition", Stephen Douglas Wilson & Myriah Snyder state, "the holiday itself has its origins in the pre-Civil War South when families, and even whole churches, honored the dead in late spring or early summer. Decoration Day occurred in the rural South's calendar after spring planting, but before long summer days required extensive hoeing and maintenance of the crops and livestock." It's a great article and I urge you to read it if you're a history geek like I am. (http://www.bpnews.net/37911) This coming together of local church congregations to gather at the cemetery and have a time of remembering, singing and "having dinner on the grounds" is a tradition in which I would have loved to have participated.
Last year, as I traveled with one of my teenage sons and my parents back "home" Memorial Day weekend, I took some pictures to help solidify the memories that time has a way of eroding, just as the etching on the old tombstones themselves erode and fade away. You can see from these that it is not an easy task and there is always the possibility of encountering wildlife, and I'm not talking about cute little bunnies!
Along the way, I got to listen to my parents tell me stories of their youth. I try to pay more attention now than I did when I heard these stories as a kid. Time seems to be speeding along as quickly as the miles on this arduous trek and I'm eager to log each one into one of my mental filing cabinets. I should probably have taken notes, but I get extremely motion sick and I didn't want to push my luck. After visiting each cemetery (we went to three), cleaning off old debris, and installing new flowers, we managed to finish our tour of duty and make it in one piece over to the Dairy Queen for some much needed sustenance. Another two hours we were back in the driveway of my parents' home, weary but satisfied that we had done something "good" and made some precious new memories as we reflected on loved ones long since passed.
I'm so thankful that Decoration Day is part of my family's traditions and if you want to go next year, give me a shout...and be sure to bring your garden hoe!