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Decoration Day: A Memorial Day Tradition

May 24, 2008
By The Rev. Dr. Ellis E Conley, Pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Elkins
One of the things I remember about growing up was going to ‘‘decorate the graves’’ on sometime over the Memorial Day weekend. After breakfast, we would load up the family car and travel from Point Pleasant to Orma, in Calhoun County, to visit my Grandmother Conley and Aunt Ruby and Uncle Olin. We would gather up whatever flowers we had that had bloomed in the flower gardens around the house, wrap them in paper towels in a basket and take them with us. When we arrived at Granny’s, we would get to work, cutting a basket of flowers from her flowerbeds. As a boy, I had no idea what kind of flowers there were, all I knew was we didn’t stop until we had several baskets full and that no flower was too special to be cut. When we had filled our baskets, we loaded back in the cars and headed to the cemetery located on the hill behind the little white Methodist Church. We would go first to the family graves, E.O Conley, my grandfather, who died before I was born, and beside him, the gravestones for the Bennington and the Jarvis family, and then Ruth Conley, the twin of Ruby that died as a small child. If needed, weeds were carefully pulled, and then a cut flower was laid on the grave of each. The family would stop and tell stories about each one. What made the day special to me was what happened next.

‘‘Ellis,’’ my Grandmother would say. ‘‘There are lots of graves here that have no flowers, but those folks were special to someone. Take your basket and put a flower on each grave that doesn’t have one until you run out.’’ ‘‘Sure, Granny,’’ I’d respond, and off I would go with my basket of flowers to ‘‘decorate each grave.’’ It wasn’t a big cemetery by any means and it had a usual assortment of single markers, family plots, children’s graves, and a few with just a flat rock sticking up out of the ground. I would wander around the rows of markers, haphazardly placing a flower here and there on graves where no one had placed flowers, until my basket was empty. Then, I would return to where the family had settled to talk, and we would get back in the car and head down the hill to Granny’s for what seemed to be a huge meal around the farmhouse dining room table.

Little did my Grandmother know that she was teaching me an important lesson that I would never forget about life. Everyone one is important and no one is less valuable than anyone else. I didn’t know any of the persons on whose graves I placed a flower, but they were just as important as family members. They may not have been persons I knew, but they were persons that God knew, and loved, and persons that Jesus died on a cross to redeem just as he died for me and those I loved.

Many of you may read the newspaper obituaries each day, or listen to the funeral announcements on the radio. If you don’t recognize the names, you may not pay much attention. However, to someone each person is special. The two recent tragedies in Myanmar and China, may not mean much to us, because they are far away and no one we knew was involved, but I tell you each person who died was important to someone, and each was important to God.

This weekend, many of you may visit the grave of a loved one to decorate with a bouquet of flowers. Take a few extra and place them on the grave of someone whose family wasn’t able to visit. Everyone is special to someone. Everyone deserves at least one flower. And if they are important when dead, how much more important are those with us now in this world.


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