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"Decoration Day": An Old Wichita Tradition--by Gertie Campbell Allenbaugh as told to Debra Lonewolf

[Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the July 1998 edition of theWichita and Affiliated Tribes Newsletter. Under the original title of "What I Did with My Extra 5 Cents," Gertie Campbell Allenbaugh (1917-2010) shared memories about her family's activities during "Decoration Day," one of the former names for Memorial Day.

 

The story was originally told by Allenbaugh to her granddaughter, Debra Lonewolf. Now the AoA Director, Lonewolf told theWichita Tribal Newsthat her grandmother was both a full-blood Wichita and a fluent speaker. Allenbaugh's grandmother was listed by the agency as "Tor-chiddy-wah," but her family called her "Sa-na-hish."

 

The four women mentioned by first name in this story include her sister, Imogene Birch, and relatives Myra Brown, Corrine Brown and Eleanor Standing.]

 

Gertie Pic

Gertie Campbell Allenbaugh (1917-2010)

 

After the eggs and cream was sold and groceries were bought, and my children had their 25 cents a-piece for the show at the Moore Theater, I checked to see what I had left. If I had an extra nickel left, I went to the five and dime located on Broadway Street. There I would purchase some crepe paper. By April, I would have all colors that were available.

 

Beginning late April and early May, Myra, Corrine and Eleanor would walk across the woods from the north to my house, and we would make flowers for Decoration Day. My husband would go to the chicken house and cut us some wire, and he would bend the ends so our flowers wouldn't fall off. I would brew a pot of coffee and visit in the Wichita language while we made flowers for our people. My grandmother always told me and Imogene take care of our people-"What you have, our people has left to you. Take care of what you have for your children and grandchildren."

 

After many weeks of laughing and joking and flower making, we had many bouquets of beautiful crepe paper flowers. Right before Decorating Day, my husband would start to sharpen the hoes and getting the rakes ready. We would get our kids together and go to the cemetery after chores for the day were done. It would take several evenings to clean our graves. We had no weed eaters, branch cutters, gas-powered lawnmowers or edgers. We all pitched in with our hoe, rake and strong back. Even small children helped by pulling weeds. Everybody worked together until it was done.

 

A day before Decorating Day, I would start cooking for that day. My grandmother always told me when you have a husband and children, you take enough food to feed your family and other people. On that big day, we would load our flowers and food and head to the cemetery. That day was full of laughter, tears and togetherness.

 

Torchiddywah and Koraceus 

 From left: Allenbaugh's grandmother, Torchiddywah, and Koraceus, Allenbaugh's great-grandmother (Photo courtesy of Debra Lonewolf).

 

After decorating our peoples' graves, we would go across the road to the North. Our people would spread blankets on the ground, and everyone put their food on the blankets. We would all eat together and admire how beautiful our graveyard looked. You could hear comments made all through the crowd such as: "Oh! my grandmother is smiling at the beautiful flowers on her grave." All of these comments were said in our language, which made it so meaningful. As we drove off after a day of joy, I knew the first shower of rain would destroy our beautiful handmade crepe paper flowers. Bur that is all right, because in the bottom of my purse, I found another nickel.

 

Now that I'm 80 years old, I still go to the cemetery each year with my husband, daughter, granddaughter and great-grandsons. All of my flowers are bought at Walmart, Dollar store or Bill's, because my hands are old now, and I am putting flowers on Corrine, Myra and Eleanor's grave. I no longer have to cook, because the blankets are not laid out across the road anymore. But I can still see the food and hear the laughter in my memories. Me and my husband can only pull weeds like our little children used to. But, I still can hear those words of my grandmother, and I preach them every year, and I wonder why we don't do it the old way anymore...