Paper Roses

Celebrating Memorial Day this week reminded me of another Southern tradition dating from my childhood. Back then, Memorial Day was called Decoration Day, a day set side to decorate the graves of all family members, whether or not they served in the military. Each church and cemetery chose a Sunday in May to designate as Decoration Day. At the small church where my grandparents, aunts and uncles are buried, Decoration Day was usually celebrated on Mother’s Day.

A week or so before the event, my mother and aunts, armed with rolls of crepe paper in pink, yellow, blue, red, purple and green, thin strands of wire, spools of green thread, and boxes of paraffin began making flowers for the graves. Long strips of the crepe paper were trimmed with scissors to form rounded petal shapes. Then, each petal was made by using a thumb to make a slight depression. The petals were added in a circular fashion until a complete flower was made. Green thread was used to secure the completed flower to a wire, which was wrapped in green crepe paper to form a stem.  Each flower was gently dipped into melted paraffin to preserve it, and allowed to dry.  Completed flowers were then combined into colorful bouquets.  My mom became very good at making paper roses. Sometimes she used several shades of paper ranging from deep pink to red, creating flowers that to my young eyes seemed almost real.

As she worked, she told stories about her aunts and grandparents, about the baby brother who died at birth, the twin brother who drowned during a summer picnic, the great grandfather who lost a leg fighting in the Civil War and lived to tell the tale. Mom is 81 now. She doesn’t make paper roses anymore, but the stories live on, and I never get tired of hearing them and connecting them to my life.

I hope your holiday provided a time for connecting, for reflection, and gratitude. Oh, and I hope y0u ate some great barbecue, too.