News from the Tennessee Valley Columnists
SUNDAY, MAY 29, 2005


Decoration Day and plastic flowers

Dustin Hoffman in "The Graduate," gets a tip about where to look for his future.

"Plastics," came the one-liner that ricocheted off Benjamin Braddock and planted itself firmly in Decoration Day.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day when the nation remembers its war dead. May is also a favorite time for Decoration Day at rural church cemeteries, a homecoming of preaching, singing and eating, and plastic floral arrangements.

Many of my kin are buried in New Hope Cemetery in rural Blount County.

I visited a couple of Saturdays ago, a week after Decoration Day. Plastic ferns, plastic roses, plastic mums, plastic daisies and plastic tulips transformed the peaceful, wooded site into a Disneyland of artificiality.

The holiday got my Uncle Kerr, my mother's baby brother, reminiscing via e-mail about the New Hope of his youth.

"Florists were unheard of. All flowers came from our yards, mostly roses and sweet peas. Some, like bush honeysuckle, wild lilies and violets, came from the woods.

"People used whatever was in bloom," he said.

"After a lot of preaching and sweating, we went out and decorated the carefully swept graves.

"Afterwards, we would bring benches out of the church and turn them seat to seat, place table clothes on them and spread food from one end to the other.

"We really enjoyed the food, plus the desserts you only got there — banana pudding, peach cobbler ..."

I, too, remember some of those Decoration Days, but I remember them a bit differently. I look at my great-grandfather Fritz Brown's headstone and wonder about the German immigrant. Uncle Kerr looks at his grave and remembers a man with a thick accent who struggled to raise his family in America.

Uncle Kerr remembers many families showing up in mule-drawn wagons. I remember them coming in cutting edge station wagons.

But neither of us would have predicted the plastic.

Tom Wright Tom Wright
DAILY Executive Editor

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