Riches and Honor: The Putting On of Peonies

With his penknife, Dad cut the top off the empty, plastic milk carton.  He then arranged rocks in the bottom before filling the carton with water from the outdoor spigot.  A man of few words, he walked over to the row of pink and white peonies that lined the turn-around of our long, gravel driveway.  With the use of his trusty penknife, he snipped an equal number of pink and white fragrant stalks from the blossom-laden bushes. Mom arranged them in the milk jug.

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Dad, Mom, my two sisters, and I then piled into our old, Chevy pickup truck.  It was a snug fit as we drove down Route 67 to the cemetery in Pleasant Valley, Maryland; but more than this, it was a Memorial Day tradition, this putting of peonies on my grandmother’s grave. We did it every year from the time that I was little until the time that I left home.

I never knew my Grandma Sullivan, but her reputation was as large as life.  She loved people–even (especially) the less than lovely ones.  She was strong in spirit, despite a long-term lung disease that slowly killed her, and she was persistent in her mission to tell (and to show) her community about God–the Creator, Sustainer, and Savior of the world.  Well into my twenties, I would encounter people who said their lives has been forever changed by her charity.  Now her soul is in heaven and her bones are at rest for a time in the grave. During my growing-up years, we preserved her memory with peonies, which are traditionally symbols of riches and honor.

This past week on Twitter, the Eisenhower Library tweeted about a 1955 Memorial Day initiative by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in which he urged the nation to “slow down and live.”  It reminded me of two 1961 photographs that bear my Grandmother’s handwriting.  The photos are of Eisenhower, whom Grandma Sullivan refers to as “General Ike.” The pictures were taken by my grandparents when General Eisenhower visited Hagerstown, Maryland, on September 3, 1961. Eisenhower, who had completed his two-term presidency earlier that year, was in town to speak at the rededication of the Washington Confederate Cemetery, (which is a graveyard for soldiers killed during the Maryland campaigns of the Civil War).  Eisenhower had traveled to Hagerstown from his farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, less than an hour away. Also at the rededication was General U.S. Grant III, grandson of Civil War Union General (and 18th President of the United States) Ulysses S. Grant.

I hope that you enjoy these snapshots from America’s past, and I wish you a safe and happy Memorial Day.

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General Dwight D. Eisenhower gives the peace sign during his visit to Hagerstown, Maryland, on September 3, 1961, for the rededication of the Washington Confederate Cemetery.

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General Dwight D. Eisenhower smiles for my grandparents’ camera during his visit to Hagerstown, Maryland, for the rededication of the Washington Confederate Cemetery on September 3, 1961. Seated to the far left of Eisenhower is U.S. House of Representatives, (6th Congressional District of Maryland), Charles “Mac” Mathias, Jr; and beside General Eisenhower is J. Millard Tawes, Governor of Maryland from 1959-1967.