Friday, May 28, 2010

Decoration Day

Memorial Day makes me nostaligic for Decoration Day trips, when I visited various cemeteries as a child with my parents. Having allergies, I well remember riding in the car with jars and vases of wild rose cuttings, "pineys" (or peonies), mock orange, and baseball-sized snowball bush flower heads. But that was just the beginning.

Those days were times of reconnecting and reflecting as we walked among the headstones, careful not to step on graves. My aunts and uncles and cousins would be there, along with lots of folks I didn't know. However, we all shared ties to those buried beneath the dirt, those who had done the same thing in their lifetimes and had honored the memory of their loved ones.

The events I remember best are those at the Mize-Thomas Cemetery on Wilhite Creek, off Jones Cove Road in Sevier County, TN. I still thrill at the thought of all the mountain voices echoing off the surrounding hills, singing hymns of old. We'd have "dinner on the ground," and it was the equivalent of a family reunion, complete with stack cake. And always, ALWAYS, someone would eventually tell the story of the first burial in that graveyard.

In the above photo you can see just the edge of the stacked stones that still stand where a family traveling through by wagon left their little girl. The rocks were intended to not only mark the spot but to keep wild animals from digging it up as well. Nobody knows the name, but community members continue to leave flowers there each year.

I recently had the privilege of hearing the Jabbours share about their book detailing Decoration Day traditions, and I was fascinated by the many variations they discovered in their research. The days at each cemetery were special, and they were many, as we visited locations in Sevier, Knox, Union, and Grainger Counties.


Anonymous said...

Hello Janni,

Thank you for sharing this history. It has been wonderful to read and learn.

I am a grand-daughter of Cecil E. Oakley. I have very little information on my family roots. However, I believe Ernest Elmer is my grandfather's--father.

I did find the photo of Ernest Elmer on your site. He looks just like my grandfather, when my grandfather was young.

I have always known I had 'root's in the south. I am grateful to have found just this small amount of information.

It would be wonderful to learn more.

Kris in WA State

Janni said...

I'm glad to hear from you, Kris! If you'll email me at, I'll gladly share with you LOTS of Oakley information. You have a vast and wonderful heritage through that family line!