Monday, May 31, 2004

MEMORIAL. I know you all think of me as a hardened New York wise guy, and I love you for it, but I have my sentimental side, and so attended a Memorial Day parade, not in the big city, but in a small Connecticut town. A large segment of the populace turned out for the event. They lined the streets seated on lawn-chairs, curbs, and the grassy knoll of the town square, at the crest of which an old monument to the victory at Gettysburg -- brass statue, stone pillar -- was adorned with wreathes on thin wire stands, left by local VFW posts and dotted with paper poppies.

Some held small, stiff muslin flags mounted on thin sticks. Others held styrofoam coffee cups (the parade started about 10 am). Nearly everyone seemed to meet someone he or she knew coming down the sidewalk. The town is small enough that this is a genuine social event. Here and there teenagers clotted together, but they would be approached by adults that they kmew -- parents, friends of parents, teachers -- and would receive them warmly. That done, the boys in Slipknot and Method Man t-shirts and gigantic blue jeans would go on making time with the cheerleaders who were taking a break from their march duties. The cheerleaders, like most of the young girls, wore plenty of makeup and seemed energized by the prospect of their public display. I observed a couple of these chatting with a lad who cheerfully threw fun-snaps at them, which assault they protested unconvincingly.

Every local civic group seemed to have a place in the parade. Primacy went to the veterans, especially the WWII vets, walking majestically if sometimes with halting step in their ill-fitting uniforms and smart, peaked garrison caps. There were police and fire battalions, the latter sometimes represented by antique fire trucks (including a Ford F-800 "Big Job," and a Seagrave with a wooden grille). There were marching bands of varying ages and levels of expertise, one of which played "Stars and Stripes Forever" so poorly it came out as a forlorn dirge, but we clapped because it was the best they could do. The cheerleaders and drum majorettes ran their paces with great concentration. Then came soccer teams, youth groups, local beauty queens, and various random gaggles of citizens, waving and scanning the crowd for friends. At last a few police cars with lights slowly and silently strobing signalled the finish, and the audience dispersed to their homes and barbecues.

It was delightful. No one had to underline the themes of sacrifice and service. The parade passed, as it had for years, as it will certainly pass next year, observed in the same manner, with trucks and tunes and flags and coffee. This is memorial enough. What the blood of the fallen has purchased is well known, and it is left to us to celebrate, without portent or pomposity, their wonderful gift.

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