This is a repeat from 2009.
To me, Memorial Day is May 30th, not the last Monday of the month that we celebrate now, even though for the majority of my life, the Monday holiday has been the norm.
Growing up in my house, May 30th had a special significance because, in addition to a day to honor our war heroes, it is also my sister’s birthday and, with a timing that our father convinced us occurred in honor of that momentous occasion, the Memorial Day parade marched right by our house.
As kids, we would jump off the front steps; practice our cartwheels and somersaults; and then run to the street when the pounding of drums announced the parade’s imminent arrival. It wasn’t much in the way of display, a band or two, the measured pace of flag-holding veterans, baton twirlers and uniformed scout troops, a group of bike riding kids and flowing streamers riding beside. However understated though, at age five or age ten, the event was as big as the world to us. That parade and its route by our house ceased somewhere around the time the Memorial Day date changed; the only thing left is a tale we tell as a part of family lore, of the birthday girl covered in poison ivy the day one of those parades marched by.
I thought of this all yesterday when my husband and I wandered downtown to cheer our daughter as she marched with the high school band during our town Memorial Day celebration. The common was decorated with families dressed in shorts and red and blue, luxuriating in one of the few warm days we’ve had this spring. Kids biked around the pond at the middle; over by the Unitarian Church, the Daughters of the American Revolution stood in the flowing dresses of their period garb. In front of the white painted colonial housing the Senior Center, volunteers did a brisk business in hot dogs and popcorn, and everywhere it seemed, American flags rippled in the sea breeze. We found my husband’s mother and dad, his sister and her two sons sitting under the umbrella of a shady maple. The boys, ages four and two, munched on steamed hot dogs and reached hands into paper bags of popcorn. Jiggling in anticipation of the parade, they jumped up to dash about the yard in giggling bursts of excess energy.
I waited in a different kind of anticipation--a blossom of gratitude expanding in my chest for those who serve, for the respect our town displays, and for my daughter who has played the flute since the fourth grade and would demonstrate her own patriotism this day. When the sound of music drifted to us, we ran to the street, the boys waving their tiny American flags. Aging veterans and civic leaders drove by in shiny convertibles, younger veterans marched behind. “The Rusty Skippers,” the town band consisting of local volunteers reprising their high school playing skills marched by, and we whooped and hollered as our daughter and her classmates followed.
As a contingent of retired marine musicians marched behind the predictable scout troops and bicycles, I looked at our little nephews, tired now, but holding their flags and still waving. For a moment I was once again their height, delighted by the bands, clapping at the soldiers, and regardless of the date, experiencing that first dawning loyalty to our country in a way that lives forever.
In honor of NJS.