By Nita Johnson
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Growing up in the Sinking Creek community always brought a flurry of activity around the last of May each year. With Mother’s Day and my birthday past, the attention transferred to the ultimate church activity of the year — Decoration.
I always wondered why it was called Decoration rather than Homecoming, which is basically what the event involved. It was a time when the ladies of the church and the community cooked for days to prepare just the right delectable dish for the dinner following the Sunday morning church service. I decided in my early teen years that it was called Decoration in our community because it usually fell around the weekend of Memorial Day when nearly every family with loved ones buried in Dunn Cemetery would put fresh, new flowers on the graves. It wasn’t until many years later I learned that Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day.
There have been many Decoration Days over my lifetime, and each one brings back memories of growing up in the church and the community. Although Sinking Creek’s church and auditorium has been renovated and redecorated several times since my childhood, I can still look out among the seats and remember where many of the people who inspired me once sat.
I miss those times.
Like Memorial Day itself, Decoration at Sinking Creek doesn’t bear the same status as it once did. While nearly everyone buried in Dunn Cemetery once had ties to the Sinking Creek community, many of their descendants live in and/or were raised in other areas. With the elders of those families now dead themselves, the hectic lifestyles of this generation and the upcoming generations don’t set aside the same reverence of their forefathers. Although the hillside that hosts Dunn Cemetery is always bright with new flowers each Memorial Day, the crowd staying around for the singing service after dinner isn’t always as large as I recall.
Although I realize the days of my great aunts and uncles, and now, even my aunts and uncles, gathering at our house are gone forever, I cherish those times when third- and fourth-cousins knew one another and when gathering together was for other reasons than a funeral.
I miss those days of innocence — of seeing our community as a large family where trust, love and loyalty were instilled and honored. I miss those days when children could play for hours outside in a field of lightning bugs without fear of injury or calamity. I miss those days when cars lined the roadway of Sinking Creek Road and the men of the church dragged out folding chairs for extra seating during the annual Decoration singing service.
I’m thankful that many of my generation and those behind mine still cherish some of the traditions taught by our ancestors. I’m thankful that I have a strong foundation in traditions that meant so much to my mother, grandmother and other family members.
But most of all, despite all the mistakes made in my lifetime, I’m thankful for a family who believed in values and traditions, who taught the fear of God and wrath of parents, and the importance of self-esteem through kind acts and kind words.
It doesn’t have to be Memorial Day to remember those gone before. It’s a memory carried through everyday and is the basis of the people we are.