Decoration Day 

Elizabeth H. McKinney

© Copyright 2007 by Elizabeth H. McKinney


My parents taught my nephews, niece and me to honor our deceased family members. In memory I hear them say, ‘Without your deceased family members, you wouldn’t be who you are today.’ They called the day Decoration Day instead of Memorial Day. My dad’s eighty year old niece still calls it that today.

The first death in our family that I remember was my oldest brother, who was killed at the end of World War II. My parents were so proud that their marine son had died for his country. I can barely remember him coming home on leave. The next death was my sister’s husband, who was killed in the Easter Kentucky coal mines. That day stands out vividly in my memory, even though I was only about ten years old.

About a month before Memorial Day, Mother would buy colorful crepe paper and paraffin wax. She would make roses and other colorful flowers. These were put on wire stems. She would carefully cut green crepe paper leaves to go on the wire. My nephews, niece and me made simple flowers. I’m sure these didn’t look that pretty. Looking back, I think she did this to make us feel closer to our deceased family members and it worked. My niece remembers her mom making white snowball flowers. She said that she twisted the white crepe paper to make them look real.

The cemetery was crowded on Memorial day. People traveled long distances to honor their dead. Mother, Dad and my sister would put the flowers on the graves. Then, my parents would tell us stories about each deceased family member. This has now become a family tradition.

My niece lost her only son at age five. He and my daughter were the same age. She always put a flower on his grave. Now her daughter puts a flower on Johnny Bear’s gave, My daughter always tells her about Bear, her brothers and her playing in the creek or playing ball together, listen as she describes what Bear looked like. She was only five when Johnny Bear was killed, but she remember exactly what he looked like, even to his sparkling brown eyes. My oldest grandson was only ten months old, when my father died. The grandchildren can’t remember him, but I have told them many stories about him The oldest grandson has his name, and is very proud of it. He puts a beautiful flower on his grave. After mother died, two grandsons and two granddaughters could/can recall loving memories of her.

For a number of years, the grandchildren would write her notes on colorful construction paper and place them on her grave. They would pick flowers and place them on her grave. My daughter has always taken her daughter to the cemetery. She puts flowers on her great-grandfather and great-grandmother’s graves. My daughter always tells her stories about them.

My niece mentions that her daughter and mine will carry on the tradition of Decoration Day. My granddaughters says she will always honor her deceased family. Our old traditions are fading fast. I pray that our family tradition of Decoration Day will remain.

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