Cemetery shrubs more than just decorations

Published 10:42 am Tuesday, May 4, 2010

After reading an article in Over the Back Fence magazine, I felt compelled to write this letter. The article was about the Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day Parade and brought to mind many wonderful memories I have of this wonderful tradition.

I didn’t realize that when I, as a child, had grandma cut some of her sweet smelling peonies for me to carry in the parade, (all school children were in the parade and carried flowers), it was a tradition that began in the 1890s.

After the parade, flowers were taken to Woodland Cemetery to be place on the graves of the soldiers.

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The one hundredth parade in 1968 coincided with my graduation from Ironton High School. I was in the million dollar marching band.

Ralph Falls and John Filkins worked us particularly hard because this was a very important performance for the city of Ironton.

Growing up, Memorial Day preparations began around Mothers Day. The family would go to Woodland, tidy up the graves of all the departed relatives and plant flowers. Another family tradition was to go to church on Sunday, then out to eat, usually at Bob Evans on second street in West Ironton, and to always go to the cemetery afterwards. With all the trips to Woodland, I felt it was a park. All the trees, shrubs and flowers galore.

As time progressed and I grew up, grandpa died, then mom, grandma and Daddy. I had moved away after college graduation but I had a true responsibility to carry on and keep the memories alive and the flowers planted on my loved ones, always looking forward to “coming home” for Memorial Day.

After dad died, I wanted to have something living on my parents graves. I inquired at the cemetery office and they approved my idea of planting two pyramidal arborvitaes, which I did.

Memorial Days came and went. Woodland always looked wonderful…and then came those two words “shepard’s hooks!” I was upset, but understood. Mom and Dad’s arborvitaes were growing. In fact, it always made me smile to see them as I came around the mausoleum. On dad’s side the shrub was short and round (like Don) and moms was tall and thin (she was). Every time I drove away and looked back, I glimpsed my parents.

I came down to Ironton in early March this year to remove Christmas decorations and tidy up.

As soon as I rounded the mausoleum, I knew something was missing. The arborvitaes were gone. They had been cut down, their stumps sticking out of the ground.

I was devastated.

Those two shrubs, in my mind, were more than just a decoration. They gave me comfort, because even though I couldn’t be there, they were and they were living. I went to the office and was told this was being done throughout Woodland.

Anyway, I will always have my memories of Memorial Day, the parade, peonies and a beautiful flower filled park. I haven’t been back since. I just can’t look at those stumps.

Sara Casey