Monday, August 22, 2011

Books in Brief: Decoration Day in the Mountains, Ain't No Grave

 Reviewed by Jeanne

For many years I assumed that everyone went to the family graveyard over Memorial Day weekend to decorate the graves of family and friends. Many families would gather en masse to clean the cemetery and have dinner on the ground. Family members who lived out of the area were at least expected to send flowers; families who graves left unadorned after the holiday were the subject of gossip. I remembered hearing too that Memorial Day was the modern name; earlier it was called Decoration Day and that flowers were homemade from crepe paper.

Family graveyards still exist, but as families move away from the traditional "homeplace" and descendants scatter more and more people are opting for perpetual care cemeteries. These cemeteries are owned by companies which will see to it that the graves are properly maintained, relieving family members of the burden. Along with this trend,   I've been seeing fewer grave decorations when I make the trek back to my home county these past few years. More and more people in the area see Memorial Day more as the start to summer than a day to remember the past.

Recently I heard a radio interview about a new book called Decoration Day in the Mountains by Alan Jabbour & Karen Singer Jabbour which discusses this very topic. Although the particular area they surveyed was in North Carolina, many of the things they discuss are customs similar to the ones I knew. They include Church Homecomings, grave inscriptions and decorations,  This book describes the history and culture surrounding the day, including photographs and interviews.  It's a fascinating look at a way of life which is fast disappearing along with the family graveyards. It's a lovely piece of nostalgia for those who remember, and a wonderful introduction to those who don't.

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