The title “Graveyard Day” refers to the time set aside each year for cleaning and maintenance of a family cemetery. While many contemporary families break apart, this activity demonstrates Joe McClain’s dedication to his kin and his close connection even with those who are no longer alive. As he carefully tends the graves of his dead relatives, he convinces Waldeen that she can build a new relationship with him.
Throughout the story Mason presents several unconventional families. After Waldeen’s divorce, she and her daughter Holly constitute a family, but the roles of parent and child are reversed as Holly frequently reprimands her mother. Joe spends most evenings with Waldeen and Holly, and these three try to form another family configuration. In still another variation, C. W. Redmon and Betty Mathis live together but avoid marriage because Betty does not want children. To satisfy his own need for a more extensive family, C. W. borrows Holly and takes her fishing. In all these situations, the family unit is more temporary than abiding. Indeed, a reference to television emphasizes the constantly shifting nature of family relationships. As Holly and her pseudo-father Joe play cards, they laugh like contestants on Let’s Make a Deal. The game show analogy suggests that their merriment may be transient and that family arrangements are always subject to renegotiation.
At the graveyard, Waldeen realizes that if she marries Joe (and stays married long enough) they will both be buried there with his family. As she imagines their common headstone, she begins to feel that the promise of marriage is symbolized not by a diamond ring but by a burial plot. Thus, in the middle of a cemetery, she finds hope for a new life. If she pursues a fuller relationship with Joe, she can perhaps forge new family links that will endure.