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Friday, May 28, 2010

Memorial Day - Bitter Sweet

I saw a clump of daisies along the roadside today. They reminded me of home, my childhood home.
I'm sure my mother breathed an exasperated sigh when she saw me or my brother bringing her yet another armload of daisies, but she always found a clean jar, put them in water and placed them in a prominent place to be enjoyed. No doubt, Germtrol was used frequently after a foray into the daisy field. Germtrol eased the itch accompanying chigger bites.
Daisies bring a memory of another kind also. May 30 was a holiday not overlooked in our family. As long as I can remember, Decoration Day was family day. It was a time when families gathered at the gravesites of loved ones long gone to pay tribute by laying flowers on the graves. Originally designated as Memorial Day for fallen soldiers, we called it Decoration Day.
In Dad’s family, the accepted mode of decoration was to place seasonal garden flowers or wild flowers on the graves. Sometimes the bouquets would be placed in jars or cans. Peonies and roses gathered from the yard were popular. Many times huge peony plants or climbing rose bushes were planted at the gravesite to provide a natural decoration.
I remember gathering huge armloads of daisies. These were put in water to await the next day when they would be placed on graves. I liked the huge peony blossoms, but I hated the ants. Anywhere there is a peony depend on it being full of ants.
Mom's family followed another custom, that of making flowers for decoration. Mom was known in the community for her crepe paper flowers. She began early in the spring buying colorful red, pink, green and white crepe paper so she would have enough time to make the many sprays needed for family graves. She made her own patterns, carefully cutting each petal just right. The shape of the petal depended on the type of flower she intended to make. A gladiolus petal had a sharp point at the end. A rose was rounded with small petals close to the stamen and larger petals outside. Each petal was pulled or crimped into place around a crepe paper bound wire which formed the center or stamen of the flower. Dad salvaged the fine copper wire from discarded car battery cables.
Mom held the petals with her left hand using the right hand to add more petals, holding them in place as she turned the flower. When the shape suited her, she anchored the petals with fine wire. The wire was then disguised with a strip of green crepe paper wound around and around until it finally ended at the end of the flower stem. The leaves were fashioned from green crepe paper and attached in the same manner.
Mom made gladiolus, roses, sweet peas and larkspur. Most often several flowers would be bound together in a spray and placed on the grave. No matter that the first rain would wash them away; they were a labor of love which she never failed to perform. It was not unusual for people to make a special note of the type of flower Mom made and the next year someone would copy the design and use it themselves.
This year I will follow tradition and lay flowers at the gravesite of my loved ones. It will be a bittersweet day. Memories are sweet and remembering the loss is sad. I will lay flowers to show respect and honor their memory and to show my love that never dies.

3 comments:

Shirley said...

How beautiful, Pat. Are you making the crepe flowers too?

I don't do gravesites much anymore. We release balloons into the air.

Kim said...

This reminds me of traveling from cemetery to cemetery when I was little. Placing flowers on graves, squatting down by them so mom could take my picture, and hearing stories of the relatives I never got the chance to meet. Thanks for sharing you memories
-Kim-

Palooski65 said...

Pat,
Those were lovely traditions and, back then, practiced by many. It is sad that the significance of this holiday has eluded this generation. I, too, remember similar occasions. Family gatherings always FOLLOWED the time of respect and remembrance.

A big THANK YOU to all our fallen loved ones--I am what I am and have what I have because of you.