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Remembering Decoration Day traditions


When I think of Memorial Day, before I think of the parades, ceremonies and picnics that will fill our day today, I think about my grandmother and red geraniums.

This holiday was Decoration Day to Grandma, who took her obligation to decorate the graves very seriously. When I got old enough to help, I would beg to go with her.

Grandma’s planning began weeks in advance as she potted more than a dozen red geranium plants and groomed them in neat rows in her sun room.

On the appointed day she would wrap each clay pot in foil and put it in a box. The boxes of geraniums would go on newspapers on the floor in the back seat of Grandma’s 1951 Cadillac Fleetwood.

The car, which even then was a work of art, was kept in a dust free garage that was cleaner than many houses. It still smelled like a new car more than a decade after it was purchased. It had a massive chrome front bumper, a hood ornament that looked like a super hero, and really cool fins on each back bumper. Its color had faded from a dark blue to an amazing purple. I loved this car.

I would ride shotgun with my window down and hands out in the slipstream, and we would spend most of the day driving from cemetery to cemetery distributing the geraniums on family graves.

We would walk down the rows of stones and she would tell me stories about the names on the stones.

“They would like you,” she would say. Then she would put on her gardening gloves and use her clippers to trim any high grass or an errant limb. She would use a trowel to dig up any weed that dared to grow on one of the graves in her care.

She was quiet while she worked and I took the opportunity to explore. It was always windy and I would dance and twirl between the stones. When grandma stood up and surveyed her work, I knew it was time to get the geraniums.

“Someday this will be your job,” she told me, and I promised her I would bring her red geraniums.

Then we got into the car and drove to the next cemetery.

Grandma was saddest at the War Memorial, with its rows of white marble crosses, each with an American flag waving over it. I knew where Uncle Bill’s was and would skip ahead to the stone.

Sgt. Billy Frazier 1944 MIA.

I understood it really wasn’t his grave and that he was probably buried somewhere in Germany, but no one knew where. Grandma would wipe away tears and tell me that she just wanted him to come home.

We will find him someday, I would tell her.

The drive home on the busy Dixie Highway would be exciting. I had my window down and my arm stuck out into the wind. My hand tilted up and down as my arm “flew” beside the caddy zooming along at 45 mph. Grandma would have a death grip on the steering wheel as she peeked over it and the long hood that covered the humming V-8 engine. Lots of people would honk and pass us on the highway. I figured it was because everyone knew Grandma.

I particularly remember truck drivers who would catch up with us quickly and honk loud and long as they passed us. I would wave. I think they were waving, too, kind of.

And so on this Memorial Day as I get my geraniums ready, I’m suggesting that you take a few minutes to show your children or grandchildren where their ancestors are buried, or ask an older relative to show you where your great grands can be found.

You will not regret it and maybe someday you will get geraniums, too.


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