When I was child my father planted a long row of peony bushes down one side of our house. Somehow, those bushes always managed to be in full bloom on Memorial Day.
Every year we got up early in the morning on Memorial Day. My grandmother arrived while we were still getting dressed. While the peony bushes were still heavy with dew my mother, grandmother and I picked armfuls of the fragrant pink, white and red blossoms.
We arranged the blossoms in empty two pound coffee cans we had been saving all year for that purpose. The number of bouquets was always the same – seventeen.
We must have had hundreds of dead relatives buried in the cemeteries that lined the roads of Bentley County. Somehow, my mother and grandmother had managed to narrow the list to seventeen of them who would get a bouquet of peonies on their grave on Memorial Day. I suppose that was about as much coffee as my parents and grandmother could drink from one Memorial Day to the next.
Eventually the number of bouquets numbered eighteen. One was for my grandmother. By then uncle Ralph and aunt Kathryn were helping us save coffee cans for our Memorial Day project.
I don’t live in North Carolina any more. Those peony bushes still bloom every year on Memorial Day. But these days no one picks the peonies.
But every year the ‘55 Chevy, a small girl, and bags of silk peonies ply the roads of Bentley County on Memorial Day. While Bobby Jo, uncle Ralph and aunt Kathryn, mother, father, Gramps, grandmother and a few others look on, bunches of silk peonies are placed on their graves.
This Memorial Day the small girl has returned to Bentley County for perhaps the last time with her bags of silk peonies. According to her doctor, by this time next year she will be resting with Bobby Jo and the others.
As I look in the rear view mirror while I make my rounds, I realize that the small girl lives only in my heart. In the mirror I see an old woman who is dying.
Who will bring the peonies next year while Bobby Jo, uncle Ralph, aunt Kathryn and I look on?
Who will sweep the leaves from our graves in October and brush away the snow from the lettering on our tombstones in January? Who will cut the summer grass that covers us in summer? Who will remember?
Who will remember what happened in that little church and in my great grandmother’s little house when I am gone? Will anyone remember?
Yes, they will remember, even though they may not know what they are remembering. Every time they drown their sorrows in another bottle of bourbon, every time they walk away from a ruined marriage, every time they repeat the cycle of abuse, every time they cry themselves to sleep on a pillow soaked with tears they will be remembering.