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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Decoration Day

Lindsay Cemetery    Mike Maples photographer via Facebook

As long as I can remember, our family has loved a trip to the cemetery. Now, let me preface that with we do prefer to walk of our on accord instead of being carried.  Many a Sunday picnic in Greenbrier ended with a walk to one of the several cemeteries in that section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our elders rest in those hallowed grounds and the families of those scattered during the establishment of the Park in the mid 1920's continue to yearn for a connection to our roots.  I remember one summer evening in particular when I along with mom, my sister Marjorie, cousin Pat (yep the Pat of Old Diamond fame) and Aunt Hazel went to Friendship Cemetery right at dusk to decorate the grave for the upcoming Decoration Day. The cemetery is on the hill to the right of the bridge over the river to Ramsey Cascades.  My Aunt Margie Parton, who died when she was around 3 years old is buried there. She died of pneumonia as did many mountain children.  We had been in the cemetery only a few minutes when we heard the scream of what I have been told my whole life is a Panther.  Now, few things struck fear in our hearts more than the word Panther.  Dr. Wadley, our local dentist was neck at neck in the fear category in my 6 year old opinion.
  It was dusky dark, right at the time when long shadows and fading light play tricks with the eyes and mind. The adults tried to keep their cool but I was neither dumb nor deaf.  So mom and Hazel were herding us out of the cemetery when the scream rose again, this time closer. What happened next is a little hazy. I  remember the screaming . I'm not sure if it was all of us or the big cat. Maybe a combination of both. The yell of the cat came closer and I remember mom wailing  "Oh Lord, its in the trees".... at this point, I became boneless and just flopped over between the head stones. I knew good and well one of the four would carry me , thus increasing my chance of survival. Mom swooped in lifting me up in  full momma bear mode.  The cat came closer and I heard a branch in a tree break. It seemed like nightfall happened instantaneously. I buried my face in fear and bosoms and hung on for the ride of my life. Maybe next season Dollywood will have a new ride called "Panther Run". The worlds first roller coaster that travels through old cemeteries and moonshine still filled Hollows whilst a screaming  'Painter jumps through the pine branches above your I want a funnel cake.
We ran for our lives toward Aunt Hazels Ford Fairlane  parked beside the trailhead at the river. Even though no one actually saw the Panther, we pretty much all agreed it was a close call that night in the cemetery.  Every time I go to the cemetery, I remember that Decoration Day and realize that rain, sleet ,snow or Panther cannot keep an Appalachian woman from going to visit a cemetery. 
I wish my biggest adversary was a Panther at this point in my life. But dealing with my chronic illness is somewhat the same as the big cat in the tree: scary, powerful and invisible.
Tomorrow is Decoration Day and for the first time I just simply cannot make it to decorate the graves. My sister is in a boot for a foot injury as well. We talked today about how bad we hated and resented this illness that has trapped us both.  I had hoped that today I could take the flowers to the cemeteries, but it is not to be. I have been in the Granny Bed all day and simply do not have the energy to make the trek. Most of our fathers side of the family are at Lindsay Cemetery and Huskey Cemetery. We try to every year keep the old mountain tradition of Decoration Day going, but I fear it is fading fast with many families.
Early in the spring, the women would start to make the crepe paper flowers that were placed on the graves in those day. Sometimes they were dipped in paraffin wax to hold up to the elements better.

Decoration Day was and is a major event in southern Appalachia. The Sunday begins with a church service and usually ends with a dinner on the ground and a singing. Many have the old whole note or Harp singers. Here is a video to Harp singing at Cades Cove:

 Before our grandfather died he told the family to make sure and put flowers on the little grave of dads little sister Opal who died in infancy. Pap always took Sweet Williams and Seven Sisters Roses.

There is no greater guilt than a mountain woman denied the ability to make it to Decoration Day.
My sister said that our earthly flowers would pale to those they are enjoying in Paradise. I'm sure that is true.
But the Good Lord willing, I will make it next year if that dang Panther don't get me....