Sunday, May 24, 2015
Peonies by the Bucket - Memories on the Side
We have had an unusually cool and very wet spring in southcentral Kansas. This follows a three-year drought and loss of crops, so it is quite a contrast. A friend said today she thought everyone must have been praying at the same time for the end of the drought, as we surely are drenched.
At my city house, the rain has brought on excessive growth in the beds and the cooler temperatures have allowed iris and peonies to bloom longer than usual. I decided today that between showers I would make an attempt to clear the abundant weeds and grasses from the beds and see if I could get some management to the growth.
I probably should have been armed with an electric hedge trimmer, but being a purist, I tacked the overgrowth using hand tools. I took off two feet of yarrow (height, width and depth), pulled the random thistle and made it tidy. My last job was to bring in the remaining iris and the peonies that were so loaded with bloom they were on the ground.
And so I picked, and chopped and brought in to arrange – not in vases, but in buckets. And as I arranged, I recalled the lectures of my grandmothers about Memorial Day customs of decorating the graves. (Oh, that would be tomorrow wouldn’t it!)
My grandmothers were dedicated grave decorators and it could be quite a battle at our house to harangue someone into driving them to the various cemeteries. It was an all-day event, and normally in the middle of wheat harvest, so as soon as my sister or I could drive, we were assigned. We always heard the peony lecture.
“We used to save all the peonies for Memorial Day,” it was repeated by both grandmothers, “and if one of us so much as touched a petal, we’d be a dead duck.” I believe there was some chuckling of fond memory there. “And when the day came, we would gather our very best fruit jars for vases and load them in the car, and put peonies on all the graves……..” This was usually followed by the philosophical comments of how important the remembrance of the deceased was.
My mother sometimes repeated that same lecture, but more often she was of a practical nature. If the harvest was on, we didn’t decorate. If we could squeeze it in, we did.
Now I am the grave decorator – or not. I have found beliefs about the practice can sure depend on who it is we’re decorating. As a general rule, yes, I decorate graves. But for my mother, the person always closest to my heart, that doesn’t hold true.
First, she didn’t much like the artificial flowers for graves, and second, she was just such a practical person that she always said she would prefer someone remember her in something more sincerely and she didn’t really care about the grave. When she did pass away, I found that the last place I found her in my heart was at the cemetery.
I found her at the corner where her car went off the road, and so I placed a cross there. And I found her in her flower garden, where she loved to be. And there, I placed statuary of a young girl, sitting on a log communing with flowers and nature. And then I realized that I also found her in my own garden, where I had planted the peonies she shared, and the iris she gave me. And darn if I didn’t find her in the memories of gathering peonies by the bucket on the eve of Memorial Day as I smelled the brisket cooking in the oven for tomorrow’s picnic.
I am not sad as I plan for tomorrow. My loved ones were a joy and I remember them with such happiness. I know they are in a good place and are always a part of me.