Mom - decoration

Mom decorating a grave with mountain laurel while wearing my favorite dress — 1960s.

Monday is Memorial Day–the unofficial start to summer. And in Appalachia it means time to start planning for Decoration Day. Usually held on a Sunday in June, this is a day when cemeteries would be tidied and flowers placed on the graves.

I’m not talking about those silk monstrosities either. I’m talking roses and daisies and mountain laurel. Maybe some irises that are still hanging on or peonies if you’re grandmother grows them.

I loved tying the little bundles of flowers against soft ferns and then picking the prettiest bouquets for my grandparents’ grave. It was a special day for the community and we’d linger at the church singing around the piano or just visiting long after the last bloom had been placed.


They bring lawn chairs
and kitchen chairs, chairs
from the back bedroom
roped in pickup trucks.
They set them out front
of the church in clusters.

First they walk the cemetery
with Mason jars of flowers,
and stained peach baskets
holding bouquets cut and tied
against a backdrop of ferns
still damp with morning dew.
The fancy few bring silk flowers
frozen in time, unnatural, fading
in the glare of the sun.

Once kin have been counted
and all the flowers arranged,
they wander back to the chairs
and settle in to visit with the living.
Settle in much as they will one day
under the grass next door.

When the roll is called
up yonder, they’ll be there.