Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Decoration Day

I would like to share a little hometown history with you today. I grew up in rural Tennessee and Decoration Day was, and still is, a pretty big deal in Bethel Springs TN, let me tell you. That was the day we all went to the cemetery with flowers to adorn the graves and pay our respects.

The above video by The Drive By Truckers, is related to a cemetery in Alabama, but the pictures of the families in it are very much like the ones in my hometown, and most likely any other southern town that celebrates Decoration Day.

Everyone brings plenty of food and we all have a great big feast right out there under a huge shade tree by the church. There is a very long table that was built years ago, that is always overflowing with food every year. Each lady brings her signature dish and we all get to enjoy the best recipes each one has to offer at one time! Only the best for Decoration Day at Rose Hill Cemetery, which is always held on the first Sunday in May. When I mention this to a lot of people now, they have no idea what I am talking about. I now live in the Nashville area, and most people have never heard of such, taking food to cemetery and having a picnic?

Other churches in the area also had Decoration Day. Liberty Cemetery always has theirs on the second Sunday in May. We have some relatives buried there too, as do a lot of folks in Selmer , Purdy and other parts of McNairy County TN. The dates are set that way so you can go to both. I don't have as many memories from Liberty as I do from Rose Hill, however I do remember how beautiful that old church is. 

Both cemeteries have some historically old graves dating back into the 1800's. Some are unmarked, others with a rock slab as a headstone. Some very articulate beautiful monuments dating back into the early 1900's. Both of these cemeteries are beautiful tranquil places. Untouched by modern times, except for the occasional new grave. When you walk the grounds you span many decades and generations of  families and unknown individuals who rest there. It is almost therapeutic, and always stirs emotion. 

Over the next few weeks I am going to be featuring some of the best food memories I have had from Decoration Day over the years. Some will be authentic recipes, others will be my version, or a family members version, of  some of the time honored, blue ribbon quality dishes lovingly prepared by some of the finest cooks in town. There were always the mainstays, like my Mama's Potato Salad, Aunt Peggy's Baked  Ham, and many others that I can almost taste, just can't quite remember who prepared them. This is going to have to be a joint effort among me and my sisters, Aunt Peggy, and some cousins because there are a lot of details I can't remember and I want to get it right. I can't feature such an important fading tradition without making absolute sure it is accurate. There was something for everyone. Several different kinds of one item, like deviled eggs, pimento cheese sandwiches, chocolate pies, coconut cakes, banana pudding. The list goes on and on.

This is not a tradition that is only in Tennessee. Other southern states do this as well. Over the years the details have changed for many churches and cemeteries, but the intent is still the same, to honor our loved ones and pay our respects. This, along with most everything else in the south, is made even more special when you add delicious food! That is something that is in ample supply, along with beautiful flowers, some fresh picked just for the occasion and many prepared by florists, and some just simple little sprays or individual ones stuck in the dirt. By the end of the day, it is a beautiful site. There are always some graves that don't get new flowers, so the kids sometimes place flowers on as many of them as possible, especially the really old ones that aren't traceable to anyone there.

 I know this may sound strange to a lot of you, but it really is a wonderful event. To see the pride in the elderly folks faces, along with a hint of sadness, because each year the crowd gets smaller, and the food table gets a little more sparse. There are buckets of store bought chicken, tubs of deli potato salad and store bought barbecue (although it is the best place to get BBQ in the state) it isn't quite as grand as it used to be. That is due in large part to people being scattered around, generations dying out, or relocating,  moving for jobs and everybody is so busy these days they can't make the event. Our society has, and continues to change. Unfortunately, so do these time honored traditions.

In honor of my family, those still living, and mostly those who are no longer here on earth, I wish to pay tribute to them with my little piece of history here on my blog. I hope you enjoy it. There will be recipes, of course, and pictures of the beautiful history. I hope you enjoy this. It is part of my history and present.I know that one day, Decoration Day will  probably no longer be in existence, but until then, this is what is all about...history, brought to you in a fashion that we in the modern world take for granted, through the internet. Here for generations in the future to see if they so choose. Enjoy!


  1. I remember Decoration Day at Refuge. I will be going again this year. If there are five Sundays in May, then it is the last Sunday in May. If there are four Sundays in May, then it is the first Sunday in June. Gotta love the system! Susan B.

    1. The system! Wonder why it is set up that way? Rose Hill has changed this year for the first time ever, as far as I know. It has always been the first Sunday in May. Due to the crazy weather we have had in our state the past two years on that weekend, it has been changed to the first Sunday in June. We sisters are going this weekend anyway to put out flowers because we are all out of town and can't do it later. I hate that we are going to miss the food spread, but we will just have to create our own I guess,somewhere. Take some pics and if y'all do food, gather a couple of recipes when you go to Refuge. I will share them if you like, that is if you want. Have fun and thanks for keeping up the tradition.

  2. Lila
    I am looking forward to seeing your stories about Decoration Day and the recipes. Dennis didn't know about Decoration Day but now
    enjoys going and we have started to take flowers to some of his relatives graves. Blake has always gone with me to the Decorations so he just knows that is something that we do in May. I think he thinks its a Tennessee thing because he hasn't seen it as much here.

    Do you have a recipe for homemade pimento cheese that you can share?


    1. Glad yo like it Donna. I am sharing Gale's pimento cheese recipe soon. It is similar to one of the many versions brought over the years. I never realized there were so many ways to make that stuff! Share your pics and favorite decoration day recipes with me and we will share with the world, or at least the curious!