Yesterday I was reminiscing with my cousin about Memorial Day, or as we knew it as kids: “Decoration Day.” Our parents called Memorial Day, “Decoration Day,” because this holiday represented the reverent time of the year when we decorated the graves of our loved ones with pretty flowers. However, not just any flowers were used. The flowers of choice were peonies. We had several peony bushes in our yard on the farm and they always bloomed right before Memorial Day, making them the perfect grave flowers. Sometimes we would mix in lilacs and Sweet Williams, which were also in full bloom at this time. My mother would spend the morning of Memorial Day picking and arranging the beautiful, fragrant flowers and placing them in empty 5-lb. coffee cans. When she finished the bouquets, all of us kids would pile into the car (that was before seat belts) and off we would go on our trek to the cemeteries. My grandparents on my mother’s side were buried in a small town called Lancaster, Missouri, about an hour away from home. I must say I didn’t mind the drive due to the fact that I loved going to the cemeteries on “Decoration Day.” The rows and rows of stunning flower arrangements on the graves were breathtaking! It was like an oil painter’s dream with a palette of vivid, sensuous colors; and the fragrance was magnificent as we walked among the decorated graves.
Before embarking on the cemetery, my mother would give us strict instructions as to where to walk without stepping on the graves, which was considered disrespectful to the departed. Since our journey would take the entire day because our grandparents’ graves were several miles apart, my mother packed a picnic lunch that we enjoyed at a roadside park by Wyaconda, Missouri, where my father’s parents were buried. Toward evening, we would end up at my Aunt Opal’s grave (my cousin’s mother), who was my dearest and most favorite aunt. This last cemetery was in Illinois, not far from our farm, but all of us kids were so tuckered out we would fall asleep in the car before we reached home. Fondly, that is my memory of Memorial Day, or “Decoration Day,” which was not only a day of remembering our loved ones but also a day of travel, adventure, and family fun.