My grandfather was a farmer. And although it may be hard to imagine, alongside the tomatoes and strawberries, peppers and corn, there was another important crop: peonies. I can remember, as a kid, buckets of bunches of peonies next to the boxes and stacks of produce at market. Every spring, in the days leading up to Memorial Day, folks would be buying peonies. Bunches and bunches of peonies. Flowers for the cemetery, blossoms of affection for loved ones lost.
Maybe because it was the 1960s and so many families were still grieving family members lost in the wars, but it seemed to me those peonies were bought and carried to the graves of all the beloved dead. Not just soldiers, but grandmothers and sisters, moms and dads and uncles. As I grew up, people started taking all sorts of flowers to the cemetery for Memorial Day, but when I was small, people took peonies. Lots and lots of peonies—cut and gathered from my grandfather’s farm.
I don’t think I’ve seen a bunch of peonies for years, but I remember them being enormous beautiful flowers that came in shades of red and pink and white. Sadly, I also remember them being quite buggy. Ants, I think. In a time before modern day insecticides, I remember the peonies being incredibly beautiful, but always full of bugs. You wouldn’t have wanted to bring these flowers inside, but they were perfect for the cemetery. Anyway, that’s the way I remember it. And Memorial Day always reminds me of peonies.
Nowadays, Memorial Day is about remembering those who gave their lives in service to this country and it is a good thing to honor the memory of these brave men and women. I, however, will be taking time out of this day to celebrate the memory of my parents and grandparents and all who I have loved and lost along my life’s journey. I don’t do the cemetery thing. Never have. Never thought the dead cared so much whether or not their loved ones brought flowers to their graves. But in my heart, I will be laying down bunches and bunches of peonies in the soft green grass and saying, thank you—for all the memories and for loving me.
Happy Memorial Day.