It was Decoration Day in the Tennessee hinterlands yesterday, as it is annually on the first Sunday in June.
The old custom in my wife’s family is to gather in the family cemetery on that date (not on Memorial Day as some do elsewhere, for reasons no one seems to know), place flowers on the graves of the departed, and then tuck in to a bounteous potluck picnic under the big shelter my late father-in-law (now one of the residents of the estate, tucked under) helped build.
It’s a strange custom, I suppose, but also a good reminder to ourselves the living to enjoy our brief tenure above the turf, and to remember the lives of those who’ve gone before us in the inevitable procession. We didn’t do that back in the midwest, where I came from. Too bad.
It’s the Graves family cemetery, by the way. Really.
But you don’t have to be a Graves to get in. My wife has thoughtfully reserved spots for our family. Older Daughter’s not too keen on spending eternity there, though, and neither am I. My preference is to be boiled to my elements and ritually apportioned in all my favorite places: Radnor Lake, Warner & Centennial Parks, Greer Stadium. Maybe a spoonful to join the Graveses et al.
And if the cost comes down, family, I’d like some small part of me to enter low earth orbit and circle my favorite planet for as long as anyone can imagine.
Meanwhile, an occasional walk through the graveyard is a good thing. Next year I’m bringing Walt Whitman along, and I’m going to set up my folding chair on one of the unoccupied corners of the field and read to the inattentive throng:
A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands; How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he. I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven. Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord, A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt, Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say Whose? Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation. Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic, And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones, Growing among black folks as among white, Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same. And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves... Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.) I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab. Who has done his day's work? who will soonest be through with his supper? Who wishes to walk with me? Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late? The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab and my loitering. I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable, I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world. The last scud of day holds back for me, It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadow'd wilds, It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk. I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun, I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags. I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles...