Saturday, August 11, 2012

Decoration Day at the Cemetery

Today was Decoration Day at Anderson Cemetery. For those not understanding the term, it’s one day each year when families gather at burial grounds to lay flowers on the graves of their departed loved ones.

Anderson Cemetery dates back many years, to the time when the adjoining church, below, was established.  There is no charge for a burial plot, as is the case with most cemeteries affiliated with a church. There are many of these cemeteries in the rural South.

It is known as the Hurricane Springs Primitive Baptist Church in Anderson. My grandmother and her mother were life-long members here. My great-great grandfather, Rev. Legget Jenkins, was a minister at this and other congregations in the area. All are buried in the cemetery. 

It’s an old tradition in the rural South, and was a much larger event in days gone by, when families arrived early to clean the cemetery, trim the grass, plant new shrubbery and maintain the existing ones. Fresh flowers were then placed upon the graves.
A very, very old Eastern Cedar tree, the only one remaining in the cemetery. According to mother, there were once many cedar trees here, but time has taken it's toll on the others. Beautiful! Look at the texture and shape.

The day was a family reunion of sorts, with everyone bringing picnic baskets overflowing with food, which was spread on picnic tables and a common meal was enjoyed. Oftentimes, a large pot of stew would be cooked in a large pot and sold to those who may not have brought their own food.

Long afternoon shadows fall on the cemetery, casting an eerie scene as the day draws to a close. A side view of the church provides the backdrop and an old Oak tree hovers overhead.
It is my opinion that this tradition is beginning to fade. Younger people are not interested in attending Decoration Day. Even when we were children, my sister and I dreaded the day, occurring in the hottest part of summer. We became bored quite easily while the adults visited. And we never liked the idea of eating that food with flies swarming about.

My mother is the only surviving child of the eight children of Bama and Vannie Howell, and the only person who now places flowers on their graves. The many cousins, myself included, have never carried on the tradition, even after we ourselves became adults. So after my mother is gone, there will be no one to place flowers on the graves of our grandparents. This makes me feel so guilty, that perhaps I should continue when my mother can no longer do so. 

My mother is no longer able to attend Decoration Day, but she still purchases  flowers for her parents, but no longer for her grandparents, and we take them to the cemetery. I took her flowers late yesterday, and returned late today to see the decorated cemetery. As I looked out over the expanse of graves, there are fewer with no flowers than with them. I used to wonder how this could be, that no one brought flowers. But now I fully understand. Generations pass, people forget. There were no flowers on my great-grandparents' grave; someone, a very distant cousins I think, always provides a few flowers for the Jenkins grave.

The tombstone of my grandparents. The flowers are not visible, as mother still has specific ideas of what she wants: the flowers were to be placed at the head of the graves! I'm told that Clorox straight will remove the black from the marble and I plan to return to the cemetery to clean this one day very soon.

My mother's little brother, Julian Hewett Howell, who lived only a few months.

Great-grandparents, Sarah Caroline Jenkins Howard and Thomas Berry Howard

Great-greatgrandfather Rev. Legget Jenkins and his second wife Tabitha. His first wife, Beady Green Jenkins, my great-great grandmother, is buried in a cemetery in Tennessee.

We live our lives, we die and in a few decades we are forgotten, except perhaps by the future genealogists who might research us but only to fill in a blank on an ancestor chart -- not to discover more about us as the person we were.

Agh, I did not want this to become a maudlin post! So I will end on a positive note: Live life to the fullest, enjoy each day, bring light and sunshine into your own life and into the lives of others. Do good things, think good thoughts and it will all be worthwhile!

I will enjoy the flowers while yet I live.


  1. I feel a bit guilty now, though I know, that it will fade away.
    My grandmother and mother were graveyard enthusiasts; meaning, that they had an obsession to visit the family grave. Very often. So often, that I never continued the tradition.
    Since my mother died, soon four years ago, I have only visited the graveyard most twice a year. It´s a year since my last visit.
    Visiting graveyards on certain times is traditional in Finland. All Saint´s Day, Christmas Eve.
    I guess I have cut the tradition. Partly because of anxiety, partly because the graveyard is quite far from where we live, mostly because I don´t want to go there.
    I´m glad though, that you are able to go.

  2. It does seem the older generations were/are more inclined to visit the graves of ancestors. My father is buried in a civic cemetery, where there is no decoration day, and flowers are taken randomly. I must say I do not visit his grave often, but it's because I want to remember him as he was when he lived -- the happy times -- and the grave is all sadness. Thank you for your comment.

  3. When at a funeral, I will check out the graves of other relatives buried in the same place, but can't imagine ever visiting any other time. I do love a potluck, and would show up and trim the weeds for that. (As long as the food is protected by those little net tents, of course.)

    1. Customs do differ in regions don't they? I am not that fond of potlucks. I'm weird I suppose but don't like to eat something unless I know who prepared it. My HH says I'm a food snob--that I think I can fix better food than anyone!! Haha

  4. Cemeteries are so peaceful I do enjoy wandering in them when we visit some of our old churches,thinking of all the families that lived their lives out in small hamlets centuries ago.

    We have no special day to visit graves,my MIL always took flowers every Sunday to her husbands & father's graves (they both died on the same day).
    We both visit her grave when we visit Kent,maybe once a year.
    I try to visit my father's grave in Holland each year,due to go soon.
    We never forget those we love in our hearts.Ida

    1. How very tragic your MIL lost husband and father same day! Every Sunday. Wow that was often. Bless her heart. Nice thar you can visit your dads grave. No we never forget them. Memories are lasting.

  5. Thanks for the memories and pictures and how well I remember those decoration days in the hot August weather! The best part was getting 10 or 15 cents to go across the street and purchase a popsicle or candy bar.

    1. Remember how they they used to mound up the dirt on graves? Don't do that anymore; too difficult to maintain I suppose. We are telling our age when we say how much we paid for candy bars! That's ok; we wear our age proudly!

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  7. Sanda, I love the name Beady Green Jenkins. Was Green her maiden name?


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