Monday, May 29, 2017

Decoration Day: a Memory From My Childhood

More than 60 years ago, just before Decoration Day weekend my mom and dad would clear out the “sun parlor” of all the rattan-type furniture and put it out on the front lawn. We were getting ready for summer. The sun parlor was actually the closed-in front porch of our old 1895 house we lived in with grandma Porteous. Grandma called it the sun parlor because it was always so bright because of the southern exposure. It was perfect for the sunlight to come through the many windows.

Grandma Porteous, born 1869, Fremont Twp, Lake County, Illinois
My brother and I would hose down the furniture to clean the winter’s dust the best as we could. We would also take advantage of getting each other wet, too. All would dry nicely in the sun. The natural fiber rug was stretched out on the lawn and it got hosed down also. When everything dried, windows washed, and the parlor floor washed down, we refurnished the porch.

Then a few days before the big weekend, the five of us would drive south of town to Oman’s greenhouse to purchase red geraniums for grandpa’s grave and for the circle garden in our front yard. We would also pick up dad’s tomato plants for the huge garden he would plant in the backyard at the edge of our property. I remember the tomato root balls were wrapped in newspaper unlike today when they are in small plastic pots. And in both cases, when I pick up a geranium or a tomato plant, their distinct smell brings me back to those long-ago times – the family times.

This was a busy weekend and it was good when the weather was nice and sunny. Dad would turn the soil of grandma's circle garden with his garden fork and shovel. That garden was between our front sidewalk and the driveway a few feet from the front steps. Dad would dig an outline with his shovel and mound the dirt up with his garden fork. We would plant zinnia seeds, a few geranium plants, and outline the circle with marigold seeds. By summer's end, the plants and dirt were almost level with the lawn. Along the driveway was a long hedge of peonies in bloom. The smell was wonderful. Grandma had wonderful gardens. I wish I had pictures of them, but most the family photos I know of were destroyed in a house fire.

On Monday, Decoration Day (now called Memorial Day), we would go out to the Ivanhoe cemetery to tidy up grandpa’s grave. the grave was located under a huge oak tree. Grandma would never plant geraniums any earlier than on that day. Dad would bring his shovel and mom had a pail for water which were all used at the planting. My brother and I didn’t really help with that annual chore. We would run around the cemetery and play on the barrel-type headstones. We would pretend they were horses and we were cowboys. We did help with the final watering though. That was fun because we could splash each other and mom would wonder how much water was going to the plants. Dad would laugh. 

I don't get up to Ivanhoe very often anymore; the annual chore is only a memory.  

There are no geraniums or other flowers on the grave now...only grass.

My grandfather William D. Porteous, born 1867, England, pictured on his wedding day 1895.

Grandpa Porteous never served in the armed forces. He was born in 1867. By the time the first world war came about he was too old. He died before the second world war. I haven’t found any evidence he enlisted in the Spanish-American war, but I do know he didn’t serve if he had. Even though, we decorated his grave on the day of memorial. 

There is probably a lot more to tell, but that is about all I can remember right now.

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