Tennessee Mountain Stories

Decoration Day Memory


Sunday is Decoration Day at Campground.  We’ve talked about this holiday here before but as I go to place flowers on graves, I am always reminded of a special memory that I wanted to share with you today.  Now, this is not quite so historical as most of my research and writing – especially since I like to consider myself young enough that my childhood isn’t HISTORY.

I have a lot of memories of piling a bunch of people into the cab of a Ford F150 pickup truck.  Both of my grandfathers drove these trucks and whenever they carried the grandkids around that’s what we all hopped into.  We always thought it would be great fun to ride in the back, but they never let us go to town that way, just around home.

My maternal grandfather, Henry Livesay, was a quiet man.  He didn’t have a lot of deep family ties, but he was fiercely loyal to his eight siblings, and of course was dedicated to caring for all us grandkids.  He was also serious about caring for the family’s graves. 

Grandpa wasn’t a church-goer; he wasn’t saved until he was seventy-seven years old.  Each year just before Memorial Day, we all rode out to Monterey to visit the Whittaker Cemetery and attend to his mother’s grave.  He would carry rakes, a shovel and bucket of dirt, and the decoration flowers. 

That old grave, planted without the benefit of modern vaults, continually sank and Grandpa was always adding more dirt.  Buried beside Great Grandma was her brother who had passed away in 1927 presumably unmarried and without children.  There were few people left to attend to that grave.

Most of Grandpa’s siblings had left the plateau in search of work.  Lee, who lived in Ohio, would often make it back home for Decoration Day.  If he wasn’t going to be able to make it, both he and their sister Willie Ann would send money to Grandpa to buy flowers on their behalf.


After the work was finished at the cemetery, we’d stop to visit Tom and Nova (Livesay) Todd who lived right next to Whittaker Cemetery – you simply couldn’t go to the cemetery without stopping at their house.  I still can’t go to that cemetery without thinking I need to visit them.  However, they’ve passed on now too and even their little house is gone.

The final stop on the big annual trip to Monterey was Dairy Queen.  Everyone in the truck got a cone and frankly we kids were probably more eager to get the treat than visit the old aunt or to drop off flowers for the dead.  I don’t know if Grandpa had a great psychological plan in buying us ice cream but it certainly created a tradition that I am now loathe to abandon. 

Because Decoration Day was so important to him, I have pledged to always decorate his people’s graves, if I am at all able.  The flowers are awfully expensive these days, but it’s really not about big boquets.  The important thing is remembering.  I never knew Grandpa Livesay’s parents so my memories about their graves are entirely centered around my Grandpa.  Now I also have to decorate Grandpa Livesay’s grave, as well as my Grandpa and Grandma Stepp’s.  Those three certainly are rich in memories and even though I have tears in my eyes as I type, they are beautiful, precious memories that I choose to enjoy despite the occasional moment’s mourning.