In the hills and coal fields of southern West Virginia (where I spent many of my younger years) "Decoration Day" was more than just a day for remembering our war dead. We certainly did take time to honor those who had fought and died for the cause of freedom. Small flags were placed at the gravestones of our honored dead, and we paused to remember the terrible cost of freedom.
However, in our culture it was also a time set aside to honor the memory of all of our loved ones who had passed on. I have written before about how our Memorial Days were spent, driving the 69 crooked miles down State Rt. 10 to Logan, WV. There, joining up with other relatives from the Adkins and Stidham clans, the day was spent visiting cemeteries ranging from the overgrown hillside at Foley (near Ethel), to the better preserved family plot on the hillside at Chauncey (on Island Creek) to the neatly manicured grounds of Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens (at Peck's Mill). The old graveyards at Foley and Chauncey would need their annual brush cutting. After the hard work was done, there was always a picnic presided over by Papaw Stidham. Those Memorial Days spent with my parents, brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents are some of the most precious memories I have in all my 61 years.
Visiting the graves of my father's grandparents and other relatives would come a little later. On the second Sunday in June, the Adkins clan would gather in force at the "old home place" near the Sulphur Spring on 14 Mile Creek in Lincoln County. There, a huge meal would be prepared for everyone, then most of the men and kids (and some of the ladies) would make the difficult trek up the hill to decorate the graves on the hill top Adkins/Lucas graveyard. We drank cold water from a well on the front porch of the house, and we had a great time chasing the geese around the barnyard, and catching crawdads in the creek with paper cups.
Then on the second Sunday in August we would travel to Wayne County and make the exciting drive up the old dirt road to the scenic ridge top Press Friley Cemetery, were my Mamaw Adkins' Pack clan were all laid to rest. Again, there would be a huge spread of food, and the Old Regular Baptist preachers, took turns preaching in the makeshift amphitheater overlooking an old, rough wooden platform that had been built on the side of the hill in the distant past.
This year, as he has done for several years now, my brother, Bruce, took Mom and Dad to Logan for "Decoration". In their 80's now, they only visit Forest Lawn. That is where both sets of their parents are now interred, as well as a couple of their brothers. I would love to have made the trip with them again, but busy schedules just wouldn't allow it. I miss those "Decoration Days" so many years ago.
Linda and I made the alternate trip down to Pike County Kentucky to take flowers to the graves of her mother, Orpha Bowling, and her older brother, Burgess Ray. He was known to the family as "Buddy Ray", but to most of his friends as "Sarge". He had done 14 years in the United States Marine Corps, but opted to forego a full career in the Corps to come back to the mountains to go back to school, work in the coal mines, and raise his family where he had grown up. Tragically he was killed in a mining accident in 1991. He was a great brother in law to me, and after all these years I still miss him.
Mamaw Bowling, on the other hand, was with us until we lost her to a stroke early in the morning of Christmas Eve, 2003. It's hard to believe she has been gone nearly nine years. Time has shown she was the glue that helped hold her family together. Was she perfect? Of course not. No one is. But Mamaw was a mother who loved and cared for her children, grandchildren, and the few great grandchildren she had the privilege of knowing. As a son in law, I can testify that she loved and treated each of us "in laws" as her own children. She was a good neighbor, one that was respected by all who knew her. She followed the "golden rule" treating others as she would want to have been treated, and modeled that type of behavior to her children. She was a good cook, and there was never a visitor to her home that was not offered a meal - whatever time of day or night it may have been. She and my father in law had 61 years together. He worked hard to earn the paycheck, and Mamaw took care of all the details. Naturally, he has felt lost since that sad Christmas Eve nearly nine years ago.
She had a temper, but it was almost always under control. The one way I know she could be riled up was if someone had done something to take advantage of a member of her family. I can only imagine how heartbroken and angry she would be if she knew what has been done to Burgess in the past year. We can take comfort in knowing that God knows, and He will make all things right in his time.
Mamaw, we love you and we miss you. This "Decoration Day" we take comfort in knowing that you are not in that grave in that beautiful setting at Ransom, but that you are with our Heavenly Father, who loved you, and adopted you to be His own. In your lifetime here you traveled many dusty rough country roads. It won't be long till we see you again - on streets of gold!