Decoration Day

Decoration Day

-by Sally Kirk Goodman, Hickman, Kentucky

As a child, I spent every third Sunday in May with my family at Antioch Union Church Cemetery in Obion County, Tennessee. Why? Because it was Decoration Day, and Antioch was where my people were buried—generations of them. To walk into that cemetery with my grandmother and family was like stepping back into time. With each flower we laid beside a marker, the adults taught family history and shared memories. Like the time that Mammy Cook chased a man of suspicious character

Doctor DeWitt Amos Carrol Davy Crockett Kirk, whose tombstone simply reads D.D Kirk.
Doctor DeWitt Amos Carrol Davy Crockett Kirk, whose tombstone simply reads D.D Kirk.

away from her house with a butcher knife. We loved that story. It had been witnessed by my grandfather as a little boy hiding in a tree in her front yard. We remembered my great-great grandfather Doctor DeWitt Amos Carrol Davy Crockett Kirk, whose tombstone simply reads D.D. Kirk. And, I was fascinated by the story of Obion County’s Sleeping Beauty who is buried at Antioch. Daddy had to tell these and others each year as we strolled through the cemetery, lovingly placing the flowers and carefully stepping around the markers out of respect for the people buried there.

Perhaps the best part of the day was that I was always chosen to walk with Grandmother Kirk. I had a fair complexion and needed to stop in the shade occasionally. Eventually, I realized that the truth was I was the slowest of us four siblings and really was only chosen to walk with Grandmother to keep her company in the shade while she rested. Walking with her allowed me a little Grandmother time all to myself. I loved it.

I also loved the way she introduced herself when we met some long forgotten neighbor. She’d say, “I’m Mrs. C.B. Kirk.” In my young mind, I wondered why she didn’t just say her name was Allie. But on some plane, I recognized it as homage to my grandfather Charlie Bennett. She’d also “take care” of me. Never a real hugger, she was sweet to fix your hat or straighten a collar. I knew it was her way of showing me affection, and I reveled in it.

Each year, we stopped under a big old cedar tree located about halfway down the cemetery. I love that cedar tree to this day. The shade wasn’t much, but I liked the way the sunlight filtered through the needles and made shadows on the ground as the breeze rustled gently through the branches. And the scent. It was May, but there was that left-over Christmas smell under that cedar tree. After a little while, Grandmother would be ready to move on. But, first she would lay three little roses in a row in an open place a few steps away from the cedar tree. I dutifully laid them out just as she instructed. There were no headstones there, but Grandmother was adamant that we lay those roses there. I obeyed her without questioning her about it. That wouldn’t have been polite.

Now my own parents are buried there alongside a dear nephew and his wife, close to other family members and friends. Even the man my father was named after is buried there. History. My history. There’s so much love, and so much hope for the day when we will be reunited. Perhaps the sweetest memory of those long ago Decoration Days is laying those three roses in a little row right out in the open. In later years, I learned that those three roses were placed on the unmarked graves of my grandmother’s babies who died as infants. It was only after losing my fifth child to miscarriage would I understand the importance of standing under that cedar tree with her. I thought she paused because she was tired, but now I think she was simply remembering her babies. Reba died at four years old, Carroll at eighteen months. And little Charlie was stillborn. What an honor that I got to place those roses on that hallowed ground for her. Little did I know then how this simple act would comfort me during my own loss and heartache. How blessed I was to experience that with her.

Now, I’m a grandmother. We don’t go to Decoration Day as often as we used to. No excuses. Just life. Each time I go to the cemetery, I visit all the familiar grave markers. I pause and thank God that I was privy to such a wonderful, family history lesson—both the laughter and the tears. What a blessing.

I hope to go back this year with my grandchildren and tell them the stories that are more faded memories than facts. But that doesn’t matter. I want them to know the essence of the stories and the people they’re about. I want them to know who they come from. I want them to help me lay the flowers in remembrance of them all, especially the three little unmarked graves near the cedar tree. I know Grandmother would like that. I know I will.

Sally Kirk Goodman from Hickman, KY is a retired teacher, farmer’s wife, mother, and now a full time Granny. As she often says, “she’s sippin’ from her saucer ’cause her cup has overflowed.”