I’ve been thinking about ordering iris rhizomes for the south side of the farmhouse. I almost did it, too, until I remembered the projected work to face the window frames this summer. The work will involve ladders and scaffolding close to the house, so perhaps this isn’t the year to develop that bed.
At this time of year my thoughts turn to the lovely “old-fashioned” flower beds my parents and grandparents maintained. Seems like it’s just what folks did in the “yesterday” of my life. In the spring my parents had iris, lilacs, bleeding heart, a beautiful hawthorn tree, coral bells, columbine, a few roses, and I just don’t remember what else. Grandpa Portfors had peonies and iris and whatever else.
I tell you this because my family’s tradition was to observe Memorial Day, which many old-timers referred to as “Decoration Day.” We visited four cemeteries – Riverside in Orofino, Normal Hill Cemetery in Lewiston, Burnt Ridge Cemetery near Troy, Idaho; and the Gilbert Cemetery. We loaded cut flowers from the yard into washtubs, added water, lifted the tubs into the back of the car, and off we went.
Depending on the weather, some years we didn’t have as many flowers. I’m sure my mother took mental stock of what was available and planned accordingly. I remember her saying, “I’ll save that lovely iris for so-and-so’s grave.” She knew how many graves she had to “decorate” at each cemetery.
My job was to make smaller bouquets for the graves of little ones who left us all to soon. I would cover an old coffee can (remember the little one-pound squatty can?) with foil. Then I would snip pansies, bleeding heart, baby roses, and lily-of-the-valley. I made several of those each year – one for Baby Walrath at Riverside and one for Isaac Stinson, an uncle who died in infancy, buried at Burnt Ridge.
Mother never used artificial flowers. As time went on and we began to have fewer flowers, she planted cemetery boxes. She started this project as soon as she could get the plants from the nursery – marigolds, pansies, petunias, geraniums, and a “spike” for height. We would deliver the boxes to the various graves and then someone would pick them up after a week or ten days had passed so that the boxes could be re-used the next year.
Apparently Memorial Day traditions vary. Here in the Pacific Northwest, many people decorate graves on Memorial Day weekend. However, my mother-in-law from Arkansas found this surprising. “We don’t do that,” she said. She went on to explain that on a Sunday near her late husband’s birthday, she would have a bouquet of flowers delivered to the church in his memory and then carry it to his grave.
Well, the tradition of Memorial Day visits to cemeteries dwindled for me when I became an adult. I participated some, but I wasn’t free to devote several days to traveling the countryside. Still, I have fond memories of this family tradition and I love to see the cemeteries all decorated on Memorial Day. I especially love to see flowers on a very old grave because it means someone honors the memory of that person.
[Hallie and Nick are here and we visited the Gilbert Cemetery this afternoon. Photo 1: I made only one live bouquet of iris and narcissus and left it at my dad's grave. I had small artificial bouquets -- 16 of them -- for other family members. Photo 2: Hallie and Nick move through the Gilbert Cemetery reading the markers. Photo 3: The gravestone of my great-grandmother Lucy Dickson who passed away in 1920. The bouquet I left doesn't show in the photo.]