Day, we would gather at the high school early in the morning and grab our instruments
from the band room. Likely we were
indignant about having to rouse ourselves at such an early hour on our day off
from school. We groused. We rubbed sleep from our eyes. We fretted over final exams. We filed into the waiting school busses.
Every year we had three or four Memorial Day
parades, but the one that always stood out for me was the one that took place
in the village one mile from my home: The busses would drive down Ryder, known
locally as Cemetery Road due to its proximity to the village cemetery. We would disembark; brush off our uniforms;
put on our horrible fuzzy white hats. We
arranged ourselves by instrument and casually walked down Main Street to the
parade’s starting point. We lined up
behind the mayor and local dignitaries; behind our local veterans; behind the local
Brownie troop. And then, with a quiet
tap of a drumstick against the rim of a snare drum, the parade would begin.
there, local kids would join the parade, streaming in from the sidewalk on bikes
decorated in red, white and blue. Villagers
would line Main Street, standing and cheering and sometimes saluting or sitting
in lawn chairs, holding babies in their laps, pointing. The majorettes, dressed in red sequined
bodysuits threw candy at hopeful kids who scampered after it. Little girls marched along the parade route
in imitation of the majorettes, broken sticks serving as batons. There was a festive air, despite the
solemnity of the occasion.
arrive at the cemetery and settle into Parade Rest, the band’s job, for now,
complete. The names of the veterans
buried in the cemetery—names going back as far as the Boer War—would be read. The
fourth grade elementary class recited the Gettysburg Address from memory. The major made a speech, thankfully brief, in
light of the heat. Local politicians
also made speeches, less brief.
And then, in
one of the highest honors given to a trumpet player, a senior would play Taps,
slowly, solemnly, mournfully. And when
the last note of the song settled into the soil, gently touching each and every
grave, Taps would be echoed by another player, a trumpeter who’d sneaked over a
hill and behind a grove of trees. And
then, our resentment at having to march on our day off would lessen to be
tempered with pride and gratitude.
would distribute poppies to be planted at the graves of each veteran. The band would march from the cemetery to the
quiet tap of the drumstick against the rim of a snare drum, quiet now, teenagers
temporarily struck by the importance of the occasion. And then we would board the busses to head to
the next parade.
This year, I
had no time for Memorial Day parades. We
had to drive: Filibuster still hasn’t gotten her license and she leaves for
college in three months.
here.” I pointed to the exit.
“What’s going on?” Filibuster tightened her grip on the steering
wheel as she saw that the end of the ramp was blocked with orange cones. “What do I do?”
One lane of
traffic had been completely shut down. The other lane was divided by a line of
cones. A police man sat on his
motorcycle. “Ask him if it’s OK to go.”
“Just shout to
him,” I told her confidently. I was too
scared to do it myself.
at me. Rolled down her window. “Officer,” she shouted. “Is it OK to go?”
Filibuster…Well, Filibuster turned right and joined the Memorial Day
man. Let’s get out of this.” I pointed to a Sheraton. “Just pull in there.”
and turned and parked. We had front row
seats to the parade.
Riding on the
back of a wagon, there was a group called the Jug Band singing patriotic
songs. There were scads of Boy
Scouts. A karate group marched, too,
ready to stop and do a demonstration at a moment’s notice. Kids drove John Deere tractors bedecked with
American flags down the middle of the street.
the street in front of the hotel and by the Bob Evans across the street. Two couples sat beneath giant beach
umbrellas. Waitresses emerged offering
free water to the spectators. A grinning
man drove past on his Allis-Chalmers tractor.
A photographer pointed his camera at the Brownies. Another band passed, this one playing country
music. A monster truck drove by, three
horses immediately behind. The wind
picked up and one of the beach umbrellas turned inside out and, from beneath
it, a man studied it intently for a moment before returning his attention to
equipment trucks passed next—cranes and pavers and asphalt trucks. Then an ambulance and a contingent of
seventeen fire trucks and their accompanying pickups and cars, all with
flashing lights and occasional abbreviated alarms.
And then the
gathered up their things: water and chairs and beach umbrellas. Mothers pulled children down the street in
colorful wagons. Children ate soft
pretzels and ice cream cones.
officers gathered up orange cones and stacked them in the median. Teenagers walked down the sidewalk in cutoff
jeans, American flags tucked into their front pockets.
pulled back onto the street and headed home.
Labels: Creative non-fiction, Growing up