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Dear Cousin,

 

A killing frost fell upon our hills, and hollers last night, leaving behind white death to many of our tender plants and flowers. The azalea bush that proudly sported brilliant orange blossoms hangs down with wilted and drooping flowers this morning. The catalpa tree didn't escape the damage, but stands with blasted leaves and blackened flower buds.

The garden soil has stayed so wet that we haven't planted any crops yet, so we escaped the disappointment of ruined tomato and pepper plants. Son Andy covered his tomato plants with plastic jugs and buckets, but they froze through the covering and are black and withered this morning.

Criss mourns his raspberry crop, as the vines were full of flowers and developing fruit. It would have been a bumper crop this year. The wild blackberry vines hang drooping with white flowers, and it remains to be seen if it will be a blackberry summer but, as my mother is fond of stating, "There's nothing you can do about it - the weather is one thing that you can't control."

As farmers have always done, you hitch up the plow and replant. Crops such as green onions, lettuce and cabbage are not hurt by frost, and there is plenty of time to put out corn and beans and set out plants. Crops do better after the ground has warmed up, and pepper plants especially hate cold and wet feet. Our beloved late neighbor Liddie Coon always advised us to wait until the first of June to put out the pepper and tomato plants.

Memorial Day has come and gone, but my heart and mind stay on the traditional date of May 30. This is the first year I can remember that Grandma O'Dell's graveyard rose hasn't burst into a cloud of pink roses for Memorial Day. There was one solitary blooming rose that raised its head above the vines full of buds.

Grandma always called it her "graveyard rose" because she took masses of the flat, pink roses to the cemetery to decorate the family graves.

Decoration Day, as we called Memorial Day, was a happy time for us children. Mom's family would gather at the cemetery for a day of reminiscing, honoring those departed relatives with floral offerings, and picnicking among the tall trees that bordered the cemetery. It remains as one of my most cherished childhood memories.

Our cemetery, like most of the others here in the hills, was high on the point of a hill. It was a most pleasant place free from any sense of morbidity. Surrounded by tall trees and thickly populated with the forever-green hemlocks, it was shady and cool. We brought our memorial offerings of "pineys" (peonies) and heirloom roses, mixed with irises and ferny asparagus fronds.

Sorrow sits lightly on the heart of a child, and death is an unfathomable mystery. I remember feeling a pang of sorrow at the tiny infant graves of baby cousins that had passed away years before, but no real grief marred the day for our youthful hearts. When I was 17, we lost my beloved Grandpa O'Dell, who had lived in the home with us for a long as I could remember. There was sense of loss so keen that it is with me yet today. Death and grief had become real to me.

The years have passed since then, and with the passing of time there have been new sorrows and sharper grief. Our Lord sends comfort and solace to our aching hearts, or else the losses would be unbearable.

Since last Memorial Day, we have suffered multiplied horror and sorrow with the loss of vast numbers of our American citizens. Yet, each one was an individual death, touching families with untold tragedy and heartache.

It has been a year for mass mourning. Although we regarded Decoration Day as a time to show love and respect to all our relatives who had passed on, the day was actually set apart many years ago to honor our fallen men in the Armed services. Memorial Day is for remembering.

 

Love,

Cousin Alyce Faye


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