Memory by Mildred Filbrun Heck
It was called “Decoration Day” by everyone in
our Ohio farm community in the 1920s.
Not until I was through high school and working in Dayton was I
reminded that this late May holiday was properly called “Memorial
Day was an important day to country families for on this day we decorated
the graves of our departed family members with flowers.
We used our homegrown flowers – never did we even think of
stopping at commercial greenhouses to buy flowers for our cemetery visits.
Plastic and silk flowers weren’t known then either – and
wouldn’t have been considered proper even if they had been available.
before Decoration Day we carefully watched our growing flowers and shrubs
and worried if they would be ready.
If the weather were too warm, the flowers would be in full bloom
far too soon.
If the days of late May were too cold, the flowers would not be
ready for cutting.
I recall a few years when May was hot and the flowers were heading
for an early bloom.
We cut buckets of them days ahead to store in our dark, cold,
sawdust insulated icehouse.
Other years, when spring was too cold, we cut the budding shrubs
and flowers and put them in warm water in our summer kitchen to force
were not a great variety of plants and shrubs around the farmhouses in
Nor was there the time or money to spend cultivating those plants
that wouldn’t grow and thrive easily.
Some of the lovely, old-fashioned plants we counted on were lilac,
spirea, forsythia, pussy willow, striped grasses, small bush roses and
“snow balls” (flowering viburnum).
But the favorite old standbys were iris and peonies.
the evening before Decoration Day the whole family got busy cutting
used a colorful mixture for each arrangement – just large enough to fit
nicely into the quart jars containers.
Then we tied each bunch together with a bit of string and put them
in buckets and foot tubs of cold water.
next morning we finished our farm chores as early as possible.
Now the big job was to get all those buckets, tubs and jars – and
the whole family – into our old Ford car.
The baskets of old cracked and chipped canning jars were fastened
on the running boards.
The flowers were squeezed into the trunk of the car with the lid
left open to keep them from being mashed.
An old sheet was loosely anchored over the flowers to keep the
flowers from being damaged by the wind.
Our family piled inside the car and we kids steadied gallon stone
jugs of cold tea between our feet.
Our mother held the picnic basket on her lap.
we went to the New Carlisle Cemetery where Filbrun family members
It was considered necessary to arrive early to find a shady
parking place near the only water pump in the cemetery.
But an early arrival also showed good planning and pride to
our neighbors and other family members.
(It was like being the first in your neighborhood to get your
laundry flapping on the clothesline on Monday morning.)
kids ran to the water pump for buckets of water, quickly filled all the
jars and placed a bunch of flowers in each one.
We all helped to carry the arrangements around the cemetery,
anchoring the jars in the soil on the proper graves.
We met lots of relatives and neighbors and our folks spent much
time chatting and catching up on the family news as they trimmed grass or
pulled weeds and generally tidied grave-sites.
As we moved around the cemetery we saw graves unkempt and barren of
We overhead the adults say the families of those deceased relatives
were uncaring or disrespectful of their dead.
Decoration Day was taken seriously in those days.
had been a long time since our early breakfast and we kids were starved.
We gathered at the car where we sat on the grass or on the running
board of the car and ate sandwiches of pimento cheese and peanut butter,
hard-boiled eggs, cookies and drank our cold tea from the stone jugs.
the early afternoon a band could be heard playing in the distance.
We excitedly watched for the Decoration Day Parade to make its slow
way the one-half mile from New Carlisle to the cemetery.
The band was the most exciting part of the day for we kids because
what followed seemed to us as just dull, long-winded speeches by men in
ill-fitting Army uniforms.
adults were done chatting and visiting.
The flowers were all placed on the proper graves.
The picnic basket was empty.
We kids were tired and bored.
Our half-hearted attempts at hide-and-seek and tag among the grave
markers had been quickly discouraged by disapproving adults.
We climbed into the car and headed home where we quickly kicked off
our shoes, got into our old clothes and ran through the cooling grass of a
late spring afternoon.
There at home we were free to be ourselves again and, though we didn’t consciously think about it, we were happy just to be alive and kicking. This was the perfect end to our busy Decoration Day.
story has been edited by Mrs. Heck’s
brother, William S. Filbrun -
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