I’ve always been interested in graveyards. I love funeral art and reading the epitaphs that are found in older cemeteries. I never really cared for more modern cemeteries; they seem to have more rules than a condo association when it comes to what is and is not allowed. In my opinion, the worst are the ones where all the markers have to be flush with the ground and all you can see are hundreds of those cheesy flower cones sticking up. It seems that we humans have a deep need to commemorate graveside visits whether we know the individual or not. In any cemetery there are always a few graves you know receive lots of visitors by the number of tokens scattered on the site. Famous and infamous people get lots of attention. People scrawl crosses and leave weird offerings to the (supposed) grave of VooDoo priestess Marie Laveau in New Orleans, whiskey for Calamity Jane in Deadwood and mountains of fan tributes are sent to Graceland daily for members of the Presley family. Every now and then you’ll see mementos laid on the graves of those of us regular folk who are lesser known. Regardless, these things are whisked away pretty quickly by the groundskeepers.
I visited the little Eastpoint cemetery and made an amazing discovery. Nearly all the graves were elaborately decorated. Children’s’ graves were decorated with all manner of toys, candles and pictures. Adult graves featured sports memorabilia, yard gnomes, fishing themed items, miniature tractors, motorcycles and cars; dog, cat and other animal figures. In most Northern cemeteries the only time you see lots of flowers is immediately after burial; once the headstone is in, a small bouquet is the norm. I read that grave decoration is a custom in the Deep South. Southerners will go as far as arranging a lit, live Christmas tree complete with a generator on the plot of the person who loved the holidays in life. After I’m gone I’d appreciate a mirror ball for New Year’s Eve. Thought I’d put that here to improve the chances of that happening.
Decorating graves and remembering the dead is important in the south. Decoration Day was celebrated in the South long before Memorial Day was celebrated nationally. One of the earliest accounts of Decoration Day was in Columbus Mississippi in 1866. A group of women were decorating Confederate soldier’s graves, and noticed that Union graves were untended. They placed flowers on the Union graves as well. Decoration Day was subsequently adopted by states as a time for commemoration of fallen soldiers from the Civil War, all at different times in April or May. It wasn’t until after WWI that the day was expanded to include those who died in all American wars, and became a national holiday 1971 through declaration of Congress. My grandparents and parents always called it “Decoration Day,” even though as a know-it-all teenager I corrected them frequently. Decoration Day is still celebrated as a separate day in much of the South. It may be called Decoration Day or Confederate Heroes Day or Confederate Memorial Day. Dates vary by community, usually a Sunday in May or June.
As I walked through dozens of plots decorated with tributes of love and longing, I knew so much more about the people resting there and what they meant to those left behind. A Florida State fan (there were several). A dog lover whose pet apparently still misses her. Many veterans, who loved their 4-wheelers and trucks a lot. Many children too, watched over by dozens of angels. Another visitor strolled by me. “I can’t believe they let people leave all this stuff here, what a mess,” the woman said, shaking her head. I didn’t say anything to her; you either get talismans and tributes or you don’t. Some people see disarray; I see a lot of love among the faded decorations. I won’t be in Eastpoint for either Decoration or Memorial Day but I wonder what the cemetery there will look like on that day. I imagine it will be resplendent with fresh flowers and new or additional tributes to those they remember. It would be glorious to be so remembered so sweetly.
I included a few photos from the cemetery in a little sideshow. While I was doing some research about it, I hit on several blogs and websites that discussed Southern customs and Memorial and Decoration Days. They are listed after the slideshow.