This story is about a yearly-event in most-southern locales. As true as its beginnings in the Appalachian Mountains, it’s still true to its roots today in the modern . This event is simply called, “Decoration Day.”
“Decoration Day,” was when families and friends gathered at cemeteries in the south to decorate the graves of their family members or a close neighbors. No one really knows why this tradition-turned-event came to be, but it swiftly became a “must attend” ritualistic rite of spring at small area churches in with storied names such as: New Hope Church, Pleasant Ridge, Pleasant Grove (churches), all located in and around Hamilton, Alabama.
A “Decoration Day” was usually set for the first Sunday in May. The morning services were dismissed for the day to give the crowds, young and old alike, not only time to pay respects through home-made flower arrangements, but to simply a time to talk and catch-up with area news and other items of interest.
To make a “Decoration Day,” complete, there was always an all-day singing with singers, some famous, some not, spending the afternoon with the decoration crowds to just relax and enjoy a style of music that still has its place in the modern south in 2012. Sometimes the singers would be an up and coming Gospel quartet such as the famous Blackwood Brothers, who made the “decoration circuit,” in their early days along with the Statesmen with Hovie Lister at the piano–’plucking the ivory’ to the delight of the crowds using the traditional funeral home fans with a painting of Jesus, as the Good Shepherd on the back.
Everyone loved “Decoration Day,” for another reason: Dinner on the ground. That was a delightful added event held at the noon hour. Before fellowship halls were built at these small southern churches, and the weather cooperating, people literally spread blankets and quilts on the fresh grass around the outside of the church and put out a feast that would tempt even Henry The VIII. Southern fried chicken, tasty potato salad, always a ‘decoration’ staple, and desserts designed for consumption without any table manners.
After lunch was over, families and friends would gather back inside the church building for an afternoon of congregational singing or more Gospel quartet singing. Either way, the day was filled with good food, fellowship and laughter that made ‘decorations” and “Decoration Day” a highly-anticipated southern event that is still alive today.
During the 1940’s, and even to the 1950’s, “Decoration Days,” were times when a young boy got to “court” the sweetheart of his fancy under a stately hickory tree that always stood near the cemetery. He dressed in his “Sunday best,”–suit, shined shoes and greased-down hair and the girl in her prettiest spring dress that her mother either made for her or bought at a local dry goods store with money made from a cotton crop.
Priceless memories. Irreplaceable times. These terms best describe a special part of southern culture, and an event called, the “decoration.”