The first Sunday in May has always been marked on my calendar.
It’s not like it used to be but it’s still a tradition that cannot just fade away.
From the time I can remember as a small child, we gathered in Hackleburg, Ala., for Decoration Day.
In the Encyclopedia of Alabama, I found an article written by Joey Brackner of the Alabama Center for Traditional Culture.
“Decoration Day is an annual observance at many privately owned Southern graveyards during which families gather to clean up the graveyard, reconnect with family, and honor the memories of their ancestors,” he writes. “In Alabama, this tradition is generally strongest in the northern part of the state. Decoration Day is most often associated with community-based cemeteries.”
Ours, each first Sunday in May, is at Ceder Tree Cemetery in Hackleburg, Ala.
In those early years of my life, the downtown home of my Pawpaw and Mawmaw was wrapped up with family – young and old. Pawpaw Frederick also owned a store in downtown Hackleburg and was a popular man in the community. Lots of non-family members would always stop by, too, just to say hello.
The food was always great – way too much for everyone to eat. But what I remember most is the football games in the yard.
The tradition certainly hasn’t been the same after Pawpaw and Mawmaw died.
We have kept it going, some years, particularly after my uncle and aunt moved into the house.
As the case with many family reunions, the attendance lessened. And some could make it some years and not others.
April 27, 2011, changed things a lot, too. That’s when an EF4 tornado devastated the small town of Hackleburg in northwest Alabama.
And one of the structures destroyed was the home where we always gathered for the first Sunday in May. Amazingly, my uncle and aunt survived – huddled in a small room in the house.
The landscape of Hackleburg certainly isn’t the same. But its people are strong. And it continues to make progress after the destruction seven years ago.
I confess. I’ve missed a few first Sundays in May myself – other commitments, of course.
But this past Sunday, May 6, my entire family enjoyed visiting Alabama for Decoration Day. It’s the first time we’d all been there together in several years.
It’s changed, yes, in many ways, but the true meaning of the tradition remains the same. For me personally, it’s about slowing down and remembering those who have gone on before – those who influenced my life for the better, those I loved dearly.
We put flowers on graves Saturday afternoon, enjoyed a cookout and games Saturday night, went back to the cemetery Sunday morning before church and had Sunday lunch together.
I got to renew some old friendships at Hamilton (Ala.) Church of Christ.
I got to see my Uncle Mack and Uncle Bobby.
And that’s just a few things that were so special about this past weekend.