I am reposting a piece from a few years ago. Not only is today Memorial Day and Decoration Day; it would have been Daddy’s 91st birthday. Decoration Day was very important to him so it is natural that I would be very nostalgic about him today.
My sister and I live much too far away to be able to pay our respects in person, so some of our cousins sent pictures of the graves of our grandparents, great grandparents, and our Daddy (seen below).
The Days of the Living Dead
I am a taphophile, a cemetery enthusiast. This is not unusual in the South, especially Appalachia and the Blue Ridge. Honoring and remembering our dead is a common practice. You’ll often hear some of our older generation talk about attending a good funeral and cleaning and decorating the burial places of both our recent and long dead ancestors is an occasion. In fact, in these areas, Memorial Day is considered Decoration Day because we pay respects to all the dead, not just the military. In some places, it is such a celebration that churches or families have “dinner on the grounds” which can take the form of a picnic at the burial grounds.
We have family buried all over parts of eastern Kentucky and I can promise you that no matter how remote or inconvenient, we found a way to clean the area and place flowers on the grave. Even burial sites that were slowly sliding down toward the river – we hung off rocks and tried to shore them up to keep them as stable as possible. We have family buried in the middle of a state park. Some are spread throughout the hills on farms that are no longer owned by family. Many are in large, family cemeteries. As part of this care, my father along other family members made a project of placing stones for those who had no markers on their graves. Honoring the dead is serious business in my family.
My father was the genealogist in the family and I inherited the project when he passed 11 years ago. The headstones provide invaluable information about the life and times of our predecessors. The older headstones and monuments can be quite creative and lead us to other resources. Some are simply grand works of art.
For the art and atmosphere, I love Savannah’s Bonaventure and Colonial Park Cemeteries and the Huguenot Cemetery in St. Augustine. The serenity and solitude in these places bring peace to my soul. When we travel, I always seek out the oldest cemetery in the area. It doesn’t matter that none of those buried there are “my people”. They are someone’s people and are deserving of honor and respect.
Cemeteries have a way of keeping our past alive for me. The souls interred are very alive because no one is gone as long as they live in someone’s memory. I make sure they live in mine. The burial grounds and churchyards truly are the homes of the living dead.