Memorial Day has departed, and soon the month of May will follow. June, with her roses and brides, is eager to enter our hills, but both months leave reminders for us to love and admire.
A vase of red roses adorns the dining room table, and a vine of the same climbs the front porch columns. Bordering the kitchen yard, the dahlias are bursting into bloom, pure white and lovely. It seems that dahlias always bloomed for Memorial Day, and my mind keeps drifting back to yesteryear.
Grandma O’Dell’s heirloom roses always bloomed at this time too — big, fragile ones with an unforgettable fragrance. She brought them from Muddlety, packed in with their household belongings in a horse and wagon, when they moved to this Clay County farm.
I wonder now if they were just a reminder of the old home she was leaving behind. Now they are a reminder to us of the life she lived here in the hills, delivering babies (she was a licensed midwife) and serving as a good example to us of a godly woman.
On Memorial Day (we called it Decoration Day), we would gather the dahlias and Grandma Roses, stuff them into a glass Mason jar, and take them to the family cemetery to decorate the graves. At that time, there were not many graves in the cemetery beside the Church of God, but now we have a lot of family members buried there. The artificial flowers I ordered for this year didn’t arrive in time for Memorial Day, so I guess I will have my own day of remembrance.
As many Appalachian families used to do, Mom’s family cemetery really was a joint family affair. There were 11 children in the Grandpa Abner Jehu Samples family, and they all had many children. We called him “Grandpa Hooge” but we didn’t know Grandma Alice, as she died when my mother was only 11. There were so many cousins, though, that they were hard to count.
The Samples family cemetery was a lovely place, and was never considered morbid by us children. It was located on a bluff that overlooked Big Laurel Creek, and was reached by traveling the Twistabout Road, following a path through the Parks cemetery, and on down through the woods.
The path was bordered by tall trees and went down over a rocky slope where wild pink roses bloomed. Of course, we children snatched daisies, rhododendron blossoms and other wild flowers as we walked.
At the graveyard — we didn’t call it a cemetery — we cleaned the fallen leaves and debris from the graves, and decorated them with the flowers that we brought. Some of the older aunts had babies that were buried there, but there was no great sorrow among us children. It was an ideal place to play together and have fun. We would share a picnic lunch together and enjoy the family fellowship.
This was not the best family gathering that we had there at that place. On Father’s Day, it was more like a family reunion. Grandpa Hooge had requested years before that his family continue to get together after he was gone. How we loved that day! My brother Larry and I would debate which day was the best, Christmas or Father’s Day. It was one of the highlights of our year.
Memories still abound concerning that day. The food was fabulous. I remember “Big Eva’s” custard pies after all these years. She was Uncle Grover’s wife, who hailed from Virginia, and she was called that to distinguish her from Aunt Eva, one of the siblings.
Mom usually took fried chicken, potato salad and lemonade, among other things. I remember the cake that Aunt Ruby brought; I think it was made of molasses and black walnuts. It seems that each aunt had her specialty, and it was hard to sample everything.
It was warm enough by then to go swimming, but our parents made us wait until we had digested our food and it was safe to go. We would walk down to Big Laurel Creek and swim in the cool, clear waters. The water was clean then, and it seemed that the creek was bigger. No wonder that we thought it was a wonderful day!
We didn’t connect Decoration Day with the war veterans who had given their lives for our country at that time. Actually, there was no one really close to us that death had claimed. Grandpa Hooge had boys who had served in WWI and survived, and there were grandsons who were in WWII. I barely remember how he worried and prayed for them. Death sits lightly on the shoulders of children until it really comes home to them.
We were having a family picnic down on Big Laurel Creek when we received word that a boy I dearly loved had been killed in Korea on May 30, 1953. He was a little past 18 years old, and was due to come back home in just a few days.
He volunteered for a combat mission and gave his life for our country. War became real to me at that time. His name is on the Korean War Memorial, but as the song says, “He’s more than a name upon a wall.”
Here I am almost 85 years old, and he is still 18. Time goes on, but he is still remembered. That is the way of life — one generation passes away and another takes its place. Criss and I are the “older generation.” This poem appeals to me.
Crossing the Bar
By Lord Alfred Tennyson
Sunset and evening star, and one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar, when I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep, too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep, turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell, and after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell, when I embark;
For tho’ from out our bournes of Time and Place, the flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face, when I have crost the bar.