For my family, May 2 became a very dark, difficult day last year when our father passed away,  just 6 weeks after our mom passed away. I thought quite a bit about how I wanted to spend May 2 this year. Once I discovered the Kentucky Derby was on May 2 this year, I felt it would be a meaningful way to celebrate both my parent’s lives.

My mom became a big Derby fan as she got older, and several times we were at their house on Derby Day to celebrate various family events. Mom was the consummate entertainer – she dressed up the table weeks in advance and created gorgeous flower arrangements worthy of a magazine. Meal planning always included southern favorites and rich desserts. There are things about your parents you’ll only truly appreciate when they’re gone – and mom’s penchant for entertaining is definitely one of those things. I knew she had a gift for entertaining but in the moment sometimes I just wanted to wear jeans and watch football on Thanksgiving instead of dressing up and having a more formal meal. I didn’t understand that this was her gift to us. I see it as just that now – her gift.

Dad was also a great cook and was as much a part of their entertaining. He made the Thanksgiving turkeys and the best chicken and dumplings you’ve ever had. He was the warm, trusted center of our family. His smile was contagious and though he often had trouble getting a word in edgewise among his wife and four daughters (!), when he did speak we listened to his wisdom and advice. I’m not sure if we were smart enough to always heed it, but he was usually right!

We started May 2 by visiting my father’s burial site. It was a beautiful, blue-sky day and there was a flea market going on in the parking lot of the church where we were remembering dad. I had to smile – as much as I’d envisioned that moment as peaceful and quiet and calm, it made sense to have a chaotic flea market going on. My father loved a good flea market! Olivia wanted to volunteer for the longest time with older adults, and I don’t think it was a coincidence that when we finally got her first opportunity in place, it fell on …. yes, May 2. So we spent a few minutes at an assisted living where Olivia played piano during their lunch time. I remain so impressed with her big, generous heart and I feel certain my parents watched over us as she played.

That afternoon we prepared a Kentucky Derby party for the family. I wouldn’t say it was an easy day, but somehow gathering with family and telling stories about mom and dad made it better. Life for me is now divided into different pockets of time – before/after marriage, before/after Olivia and now…before/after the loss of my parents last year. Nothing will be the same, especially holidays. But I found comfort that day in decorating, preparing and sharing the meal.

This year, American Pharaoh is trying to become only the 12th horse ever to win the Triple Crown. I wouldn’t be surprised if he does – after all, I feel like my mom is looking down and putting her touch on things even from heaven!

Details on the decore and food/recipes is below the photos!


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Paper goods |  Free Kentucky Derby Printables
Various books including | Garden and Gun Handbook
Silver Horses | A.C. Moore (spray painted them silver!)
Tablecloth | Vintage sheet of my mom’s that she always used for a tablecloth
Dairy Glasses | A.C. Moore

Kentucky Hot Brown Sliders (recipe adapted from linked recipe)
Ham biscuits
Fried chicken tenders
Potato salad (of course!)
Pimento cheese cups (recipe adapted from linked recipe)

“The Lily” drink as served at the Derby (my new favorite drink and a great alternative to the traditional Mint Julep if you’re not a big mint fan!)

Heavenly Oreo Dessert

And a few photos of a Thanksgiving tablescape my mom did one year. One of my favorites. The feathers now decorate a corner of our dining room.