Friday, July 27, 2012

Folklife Friday: Crepe-paper Flowers

It is late July, almost time for Decoration Day at the church we attended in my early years.  It was a big day for us, just behind Christmas and going to the fair.  Many preparations had to be made to be ready for this special day, from making new dresses to preparing food for the communal dinner on the ground.

One of our most important jobs was creating loads of colorful crepe-paper flowers to decorate the graves in the church's cemetery. My Grandma made sure that every grave had at least one flower.  The hilltop graveyard bloomed brightly for a while, lasting until a summer rain bled all the color from the fake flowers.

The stores in town, Ben Franklin and The Golden Rule,  stocked their shelves with every color available in crepe paper, but often, the more popular reds and greens sold out, leaving the procrastinators no choice but blue and brown and an occasional bright orange. That never happened to Grandma; she had her priorities straight and bought the crepe paper early in the spring, when it first appeared in the stores.

In early July, flower construction began in earnest. Every petal had to be cut out, then scraped with open scissors to make it curl just right. This step required copious amounts of time that Grandma could not spare from the gathering of vegetables, canning, and picking blackberries, so her grandchildren were allowed to participate in this process. The hundreds of petals had to be wired together on a stem of stronger wire, that had been wrapped in green crepe paper. No one could be trusted to do this properly, so Grandma had to do this part herself. She spent every spare minute she could find to make these flowers perfect. All the crepe-paper creations had to be finished by Friday night before the decoration, leaving time on Saturday and Sunday morning to kill some chickens and get the big dinner ready.

For the graves of special family members who had passed on, single flowers were combined to make wreaths, some containing multiple flowers and stems.  The reds and yellows were the most eye-catching, and Grandma was a master at arranging them.  I wish I had a photo to share here, but these paper flowers had been replaced by plastic ones, and then silk ones, before I had a camera.

During a time when women received little recognition for their efforts, Decoration Day provided a venue for them to show what they could do, from the flowers to their new frocks to the copious, good food they fixed and shared.  It was also the perfect time for teenage girls to meet teenage boys, but that is a blog for another day.