I wrote a post about Peonies and Memorial Day on Facebook and it seems that evoked lots of memories for lots of people so I started thinking about what else was in that corner of the back yard next to the peonies.
Memorial Day approaches and the peonies are already in full bloom and may fade away before that day is here. In the upper Midwest, peonies were a staple for Memorial Day displays. My mother used to almost obsess about whether the peonies would be just right for “Decoration Day,” a term often used in place of Memorial Day. We had pink, deep red, and white peonies in our yard. They were located in the northeast corner of the back yard near the bridal wreath bushes, the snowball bush (hydrangea) and the cast iron T- shaped clothesline poles. Next to the clothesline was the sand box. The peonies were pushed up against the white picket fence that my father and the neighbor had created out of the wooden slats from old packing crates.
None of these things are found too frequently in back yards anymore but they all serve to anchor some of my fondest memories.
The peonies will forever symbolize reverence, and respect, and an appreciation of the suffering and sacrifice of those who have gone before. Memories of how, as a young child trips to the graveyard with peonies wrapped in one layer of wet newspaper and another layer of dry to decorate graves were often scary and uncomfortable, as thoughts of death often are to young children. It was done anyway, a duty that out of respect, our parents showed us by example, must be done. Often the peony plants were handed down from generation to generation and town to town, crossing state and national boundaries as families spread across the land.
When I think of the clothesline with its wire strings and cast iron poles, I wonder how all of our time- saving inventions such as clothes dryers seem to have somehow caused us to have less time. Are we really better off when no one has time to hang the laundry in the fresh breezes of spring to dry for free in the light of the brightening sky? I long to see a long line of white sheets (the only color available back then) flapping in the breeze, perhaps a child or two running between or hiding behind the sheets which cast shadows on them in the sunlight. A risky business running between the sheets, as mom’s tended to not want “outside” children around their clean sheets.
The white painted, homemade picket fence signifies how we used to be able to make something out of nothing in our lives, instead of too often finding nothing worthwhile in everything we have, seemingly now only able to think of what we have not.
The bridal wreath bushes with their simple strands of white flowers are to me a symbol of the simplicity of the marriage vows and how some now appear to either not understand or not care enough when they take them.
The hydrangea bush was a wonder to me as a child. How could snowballs be on a bush and in the summer time? It almost made my thumbs go numb from thinking of the previous winters’, sometimes painful, mock battles waged across the back yards , snow forts ,and fences of the neighborhood. Now it seems that children’s thumbs only go numb from other activities without risking the pain of a snowball in the face and replete with almost constant rewards.
The sandbox was our creativity at its peak. We could go anywhere we wanted to in the sandbox, as our lives were still as shapeless and shapeable as a box of sand. We created, we destroyed and if we were really lucky, we were allowed to use the garden hose to flood our creations into a pile of wet sand from which newer ideas and imaginings could take shape.
Memories are the Meaning of Memorial Day. For just a day, I would ask that you take the time to think of your best memories, the ones that are too often hidden by the strength and freshness of the bad ones. Celebrate what was, what can be; and a belief that the peonies will always bloom again albeit on their own schedule!