Appalachian Thursday – Decoration Day

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.

Appalachian Thursday – Time to Plant the Garden

farm market

A Farmer’s Market haul from late June last year. As pretty as the catalog pictures!

I still have to work hard to resist them.

The catalogs filled with beautiful, full-color images of corn and strawberries and squash and green beans . . . The displays of candy-colored seed packets at the store . . .

I don’t even have a garden.

Oh, sometimes I grow a pot of tomatoes on the porch or plant some herbs in the flower bed, but I don’t have a place to grow rainbow blend carrots no matter how gorgeous they are in that picture. All clean and perfectly straight.

The problem is, I know all too well how wonderful fresh garden produce is. And it’s been long enough that I’ve mostly forgotten the agony of weeding, harvesting, and putting up.

So when the catalogs start rolling in and the displays start going up, I begin to have delusions of grandeur. I can envision glossy, yellow ears of corn; watermelons that split open with a satisfying crack; and multi-hued peppers hanging like Christmas ornaments.

Bush beans, sugar snap peas, heirloom tomatoes, and baby lettuces wilted in a little bacon grease. Oh, the seed companies have my number!

When we were kids, Dad would sometimes let us choose something to grow in the garden. One year it was popcorn (which didn’t do well at all!). I always wanted watermelon, but the only time I remember it growing satisfactorily that far north was when we pitched rinds over the fence and the vines came up on their own.

I’ll probably attempt to grow something this year. I’ll succumb to the bedding plants at the garden center and tuck some peas between the cosmos or plant a hill of squash under the mock orange. There are already herbs in a pot on the porch.

I’ll be surprised if it all amounts to much. Mostly it’s just a nod to memories that grow prettier each spring when I pull them out and polish them once again.

Tomato and mayonnaise sandwich, anyone?

Appalachian Thursday – Mother’s Day Started in WV

shrineYup. That’s right. The woman who invented Mother’s Day was born in Grafton, WV.

Anna Jarvis campaigned for the holiday in honor of her own mother Anna Reeves Jarvis. Mother Anna was a social activist who organized Mother’s Day Work Clubs during the second half of the nineteenth century. The clubs raised money to help needy families and nursed those stricken by tuberculosis. They also fought for clean water and safe sewage disposal.

Anna’s passion was likely the result of seeing only four of her TWELVE children live to adulthood. It was one of the four–Daughter Anna–who campaigned for the creation of Mother’s Day. A bill introduced in 1908 failed to pass (holy politics!!) but supporters got 45 states to establish the holiday and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday in May a national holiday.

The first Mother’s Day observance took place at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, WV, on May 10, 1908 (who needs passage of that durn bill!). Today, the church is known as the International Mother’s Day Shrine. Swing by next time you’re in WV!

Appalachian Thursday – Kumbrabow

leaf yellowWhen Dad told stories about hunting in Kumbrabow State Forest I assumed the name was Native American.

Not so.

The story I’m currently writing (due out in late 2020) is set in Randolph County not far from where I grew up in WV. As I’ve researched the area I inevitably found some information about the state forest there.

Turns out it was established in 1934–the year of my story. The land was purchased in December of that year and the name was in honor of Governor Brady KUMp, businessman Spates BRAdy, and attorney Hubert BOWers all of whom were key in the area becoming a state forest.

Here are a few interesting facts about the forest:

  • It covers nearly 9,500 acres.
  • It’s the highest forest in WV at more than 3,000 feet above sea level.
  • Logging and wildfires ravaged the forest in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but thanks to a conducive climate there’s been rapid regrowth.
  • The Civilian Conservation Corps built many of the parks facilities including rustic cabins and picnic shelters.
  • The forest today is rich in black cherry stands.

My hero, Creed, lives in a cabin on Rich Mountain in Kumbrabow State Forest. Of course, he started living there before it’s naming. One more intriguing detail I’ll get to work into my next story!

I just may need to book a writing weekend in a rustic cabin . . .

An Anniversary Reflection

anniversaryOn Saturday, my husband and I celebrated 23 years of marriage. That means, as of next year, I will have been married for half my life.

My wedding day feels like yesterday AND a lifetime ago. It wasn’t fancy–shoot, it was in the (literally) one-room country church I grew up attending. And if you want to know about the, ahem, restroom facilities, read this post (The Outhouse at My Wedding).

Like most brides, there are things I simply cannot recall (WHAT song did we dance to??) as well as things seared into my memory (Dad stranding us at the reception hall). But one of the things my husband and I both thought was perfect was the wedding cake.

I was NOT one of those brides who didn’t eat at her wedding. I was first in line for food and thoroughly enjoyed a slice of cake. Mom made it–chocolate cake with a ganache filling and fudge frosting. Holy cow, was it good! On the long drive home from WV to SC we pulled over at a rest stop and ate some out of the box with plastic forks. Delicious.

I told Mom I didn’t want a little bride and groom on top, but left the rest of the decorations up to her. She wrapped the layers in wide ribbon and placed a single, artificial Magnolia blossom on top (with an itty bitty mouse couple hiding under a petal). It was gorgeous. And now I can’t see Magnolia without thinking about my wedding day.

Which is kind of perfect. Did you know Magnolia trees can live 100 years+? And they can’t pollinate without the help of beetles attracted by the flowers’ sweet smell.

So, a flower that makes me think of my wedding day (and cake–I do like to think about cake) has incredible longevity and can’t succeed on its own. Kind of like marriage if we do it right.

Here’s hoping for at least another 23 years of growing through the seasons as Jim and I work together to nurture our love.

(And eat cake. I hope we always eat cake together.)

Close the Laptop and Enjoy Some Family Time

My older brother and his family came to the mountains from their home on the coast of South Carolina for spring break. Of course, dogwood winter showed up to greet them with a blast of cold air that pretty well froze their thin, southern blood! Nevertheless, we got out to enjoy a hike with some spectacular views.

Then, having earned our lunch, we went to Wild Thyme Gourmet Restaurant in Highlands followed by a trip to Kilwin’s, because fudge and ice cream are delicious no matter how cold it is outside!

Some days you just need to put the laptop down, put the “out of office” sign on the door, and enjoy some family time!


Appalachian Thursday – Spring Planting (by the signs)

produceIt’s finally March and while we still have redbud, dogwood, and blackberry winters to go (at a minimum), country folks are thinking about plowing the garden.

When I was a kid my father and one of the more mature ladies of the church would have pretty much the same “discussion” every spring. She believed strongly in planting by the signs and Dad was determined to convince her it was not only silly, but un-Christian to do so.

As far as I know, neither one ever came around to the other’s way of thinking. I suspect it would have spoiled the fun they had rehashing the subject every spring.

There are still plenty of folk who plant by the signs in Appalachia. Here’s a quick primer, in case you want to give it a try this year:

  • Plant ABOVE ground crops when the moon is waxing (getting bigger). Things like peas, lettuce, tomatoes, squash, etc.
  • Plant BELOW ground crops when the moon is waning (getting smaller). Things like potatoes, carrots, turnips, etc.

That’s the BASIC rule. Now, let’s look at the signs. Each month, the moon passes through each of the 12 signs of the Zodiac, which can be divided into four elements:

  • Water – Cancer, Pisces, Scorpio
  • Earth – Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn
  • Fire – Leo, Ares, Sagittarius
  • Air – Gemini, Aquarius, Libra

Water and Earth are FERTILE elements while Fire and Air are BARREN elements. Generally speaking, you want to plant in one of the fertile signs and cultivate, prune, and harvest in the barren signs. Of course, you’ll also want to match the phase of the moon to the particular sign. (E.g. Plant potatoes in a fertile sign while the moon is waning.)

Of course there are a few caveats as well. NEVER plant on Sunday, a fiery, barren day. And don’t plant while the moon is full, new, or in one of its quarters regardless of the sign.

Got it? Good. Now go plant something. But only if it’s after the last frost date for your region. (FYI–You should plow a late snow into the soil–it’s known as poor man’s fertilizer.)

There are also rules about the proper sign in which to set fence posts, cut your hair, shingle a roof, or do just about anything, but we won’t get into that. And you can always check out the Farmer’s Almanac, which has planting days all figured out for you!

FYI – Today is a good day to get in your root crops, but tomorrow is a barren day–a good time to get in some pruning!