Thursday, May 24, 2007

Decoration Day

Once upon a time, people referred to Memorial Day as "Decoration Day." In the aftermath of the War Between the States, Decoration Day was a holiday set aside to honor those who had died during the "Late Unpleasantness." But somewhere along the way, at least for one family living in the rustic wilds of the Ozarks, Decoration Day developed a more general sense. It became a day when people tended to the graves and the memories of all of their family dead, military or civilian. On Decoration Day one decorated the graves of family members; on Memorial Day (to embrace the new name) one remembered them. James Clifton Barber believed in Decoration Day. He believed that the fifth commandment extended even beyond the death of mother and father—even transferred from generation to generation. Last year he ascended to his Savior, and we deposited his remains beneath the stubborn dolomite of the Ozarks near Salado (that's Sal'-ah-doh in Arkansas, not Sah-lay'-doh as in Texas). He is my paternal grandfather. My father predeceased his own father, and the family responsibility passed to my generation. Tomorrow, I go with artificial flowers in hand to tromp through cemeteries in Floral, Hutchinson, McHue, Salado, Jonesboro, and Cane Island. Some whose graves I will decorate, I do not remember personally. Others are but fleeting pixies of my early childhood recollection. And then there are three of my four grandparents (Grandma Barber is still living) and my own father, who have made hallowed ground for me of narrow plots in widely separated cemeteries. I'm taking my son Jim with me. Of course, a four-year-old needs more than cemeteries to make a trip worthwhile, so I've got something planned. I have not alerted my brother and brother-in-law that we'll be in state. We're going to the domestic headquarters of our family business with Jim's camo play tent and tunnels. We're going to enter through the Finished Goods warehouse and sneak across to the Raw Materials warehouse, where we'll quietly deploy the tent in the aisles. From there, Jim plans to stage a surprise invasion of Uncle Blake's and Uncle Ronnie's offices, swords swinging and cap-guns blazing. These are the things that captivate a preschool boy's imagination—we have sat in our headquarters and devised a plan, and now we're going to execute it. I'll drive 900 miles in two days with a four-year-old in tow to visit places where, after all, I don't really believe there is anything beyond formaldehyde and dust. Foolish, isn't it? But these are people to whom I can no longer send a card. Dad would have been sixty-seven yesterday, and I couldn't even pick up the phone and call. So many of the really good ways to show my continuing love and appreciation for these people are no longer possible, but this one remains. And along the way I'll be remembering that this is just the in-between time, waiting until we're all gathered up. So, off we go in the wee hours of tomorrow morning, streaking across Northeast Texas with Beauty and the Beast in the DVD player and a half-devoured McDonalds hash brown firmly grasped by ketchup-stained fingers in the back seat. A little boy will endure stories about a grandfather he never got to meet, and therefore the stories will not seem real to his four-year-old mind. But maybe he will grasp the reality that family is important, both to challenge to impromptu sword-fights while they are here, and to decorate and memorialize when they are gone. Now isn't that a longwinded preacher's way of saying, "I won't be blogging for a couple of days"?


Kevin Stilley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kevin Stilley said...

May God bless your travel, your time with your son and your commitment to honoring father and mother (and grandparents).

Alan Cross said...

That's really cool, Bart. I hope you have a great time. God bless you.

Becky I. said...

Ah, Cane Island. What a wonderful place for a young pirate to enjoy the day . . . be safe in your travels.

Tim Rogers said...

Brother Bart,

When I come to San Antonio, can I bring my cap pistols and swords and do those things? I have a little girl, so waxing legs, painting finger nails and putting on eye shadow is all I get to do now.



BMcWilliams said...


I honor you for this great post! We sometimes frown on traditions but there are those that keep memories alive. Adventures like this with your son are incredible. Keep up the good work, Dad!


Nathan Finn said...

Bart, I don't know what you Arkansas hillbillies called the whole shebang, but in Georgia it was "The Late Unpleasantries," not "The Late Unpleasantness." Could be a regional thing. Of course, those of us from Georgia have a somewhat different perspective on said unpleasantries, one informed by the thick smoke that devil Sherman's boys left over half the state.


sbc pastor said...


Perhaps it's just your way of giving honor to whom honor is due (Rom 13:7). Thanks for the post and God bless!!!

In Christ,

Hog in Hand said...

Dr. Barber,

Your post made me smile as I tried to envision a black-suited Baptist Heritage prof with camo face paint. Of course, the gun-toting image was not much of a stretch for current-day SWBTS prof!

Seriously, your post provided me with different perspective on what I have generally considered a slightly morbid tradition practiced by so many people in these here Arkansas hills.

You guys have a great trip & "bust a few caps" for me.

Sean M.

kws said...

Hope you have a great trip, Bart. I have been waxing a bit nostalgic thinking about Memorial Day. All of my grandparents are gone. I had the great honor of preaching the sermon at my Mammaw's funeral four years ago. She would be 100 next year had she lived. Mom and Dad were here last weekend and commented that she would have loved Emma Kate. I know your Dad would have loved to be in the middle of that sword fight with Jimmy. Tell the home folks "Hi" for me. I Thessalonians 4:13-18

Alycelee said...

I remember decoration day.
We traveled to Yellville Arkansas to see my families relatives, now my grandmother is there.
I was very young-but remember this well, so great idea to take your son.
Last year Mackey and I went to Branson and stopped in on that little grave yard once again.
I felt so comfortable there among the memories of my family.
God bless you, your son and this trip.

Bart Barber said...

To all: The trip went very well (black-ops included). Thanks for the words of affirmation.

Bart Barber said...

To Becky I. and kws:

The Greater Lake City AR Metropolitan Area is indeed still there. All was well. Both residents told me to send greetings to you guys :-) (OK, to the rest of you, so it isn't quite that small).

Keith, you have every reason to miss your Mammaw—far away the brightest light and sweetest lady in Oktibbeha County.

Bart Barber said...


Jim will indulge you anytime, anyplace. :-)

Bart Barber said...


The terminology must be a regional thing. As for Sherman, allow me to point out that our crop of Carpetbaggers in Arkansas more than made up for our good fortune in missing the wrath of that man. Nevertheless, I envy not Georgia.

Bart Barber said...

Sean M.,

I'm glad that I was not in any public venue when I read the nickname under which you posted—not anywhere intolerant of doubled-over, abdominal-cramping, fluids-seeping-from-the-facial-orifices, bellylaughter.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Good to read of your "Decoration Day" trip to Arkansas. Our "decoration day" for our cemetery is an all-day singing dinner on the ground, usually called "homecoming" in East Texas. But I can definitely relate to the sentiment expressed in the duty that extends beyond death.

We also made a weekend trip to Arkansas, but much further west than where you were -- up Hwy 71, DeQueen, Mena, Fort Smith, Fayetteville/Springdale.