This Sunday is Decoration Day. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be back in Bryson City, North Carolina putting flowers on the graves of our relatives. It has been a tradition in our family since the end of the Civil War. When I was a boy, it was quite the gathering as my aunts, uncles and cousins would all assemble at Deep Creek for family reunion picnic before heading to the cemetery.

After putting flowers on the graves, my cousins and I would often hike up the trail to the waterfall, or more often than not, float down the creek in an inner tube until the icy mountain water chilled our skin to numbness. The gathering was massive, and I always put more emphasis on seeing everyone and playing with my cousins than I did going to the cemetery. Granny and PawPaw, who were the focal point of our family, had told us stories about those whose graves we were placing the flowers, but their lives had ended before mine began. The duty seemed just that, an obligation that needed to be fulfilled in order to spend a day with my extended family that seemed so large it could fill a city.

I don’t feel that way anymore.

At last year’s Decoration Day, my cousins and I made a point to talk about the memories of those family members we grew up with no longer with us. Of Granny and PawPaw’s 12 children, only three survive. Many of our cousins are gone as well.

At the cemetery, decorating the graves now hold a tangible meaning for me. It is so much more than the faceless names carved in stone I recall from my childhood. I can now see their faces and hear their voices and with each flower placed on their graves, so many memories of shared experiences cascaded through my thoughts. And as my cousins and I voice those memories, in that moment, our family is once again whole.

As a child, I could never conceive of the day when the Decoration Day torch would be passed from my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles to my cousins and I.

Surrounded by the familial security they provided, I naively assumed they would always be around to carry on the tradition.

Today is the final day of my 53rd year. Tomorrow I begin another journey around sun, and prepare for a new role within the family.

Sunday, my cousins and I will take the torch once carried by our parents, grandparents and their parents before them. We will decorate their graves. We will share our memories of them. And in that moment, our family will once again be whole.


Neal White is the Editor and General Manager of Waxahachie Media Group. His recent novel, “Crosswinds” published by The Next Chapter Publishing, is available at Contact Neal at or 469-517-1470. Follow Neal on Facebook at Neal White – Waxahachie Newspapers Inc., or on Twitter at wni_nwhite.