Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Memorial Day, Part Two

On the left, my Dad and our daughter, preparing to ride his "bicycle built for two" in Orwell's parade in the mid 1970's.
On the far right is our son with his younger cousin, also set to trail up Main Street displaying the "red, white, and blue."

The paths of memory zig-zag through unmapped territory, stopping here, darting there, winding up in some unexpected place.
I had no intentions of composing a post, let alone two, in honor of Memorial Day.  I was inspired to do so after reading Al's blog on May 31st.
Go there to view his photo of red poppies. [Incidentally, he writes fine essays!]

Red poppies.  Of course.  Crepe paper poppies on wire stems, sold along the parade route for a few pennies, tucked in a buttonhole  and worn in remembrance.
My Dad always hustled us through breakfast and out to the car on Memorial Day so that he would be in time to snag a decent parking place  in Brandon where the parade took place.
Our town did not have a 4 year high school and most of our students attended the high school in Brandon about 12 miles away.  A goodly number of those students were outstanding musicians who played in the schools' marching band, so recognizing these teenagers made the parade more our own.

The parade was led by a gentleman in immaculate riding gear astride a beautifully mannered horse.  It was a serious affair--no Shriner clowns, no amusing floats.
Those war veterans who could march, did so--solemn, intent, their faces giving nothing away.
The American Legion and the Women's Auxillary followed, carrying their flags.
Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts--slightly out of step, faces flushed, important.

And there was the high school band. Majorettes in twirling short skirts; the brasses blaring through a Sousa march as the sun glinted off the horns. Woodwinds that trilled and twittered, and always the boom of the bass drum and the rattle of the snares marking the cadence.

I marched with that band in my turn, tootling away.  The uniforms were the same as the ones on view when I was a mere child on the sidelines. Wool.  All wool. Skirts or trousers of grey wool, worn with a long-sleeved white shirt, bobby sox and "white bucks." Topped with a wool cape and a stiff military-style cap. They were hot and scratchy.

As thrilling as the Brandon parade might be, it was always the hometown ceremony, held in late afternoon on the village green, which touched my heart.
I was in the grade school band there for a number of years.  No uniforms, no marching. 
We packed into the bandstand, or if it should rain, onto the dusty stage of the town hall to play our little repetoire.  Sometimes our bandmaster imported his own kids--brilliant musicians--to bolster our numbers.
The yearly duty of sounding taps was assigned to the best trumpeter we could muster.
How I agonized as he or she strained for that top note.

The highlight of our towns's ceremony came near the end when Mr. Glenn Bishop stepped to the front to read the honor role.
Mr. Bishop had a resonant deep voice [the only bass in the church choir!] and he gave full and respectful weight to each name, starting with those from our town who had served in the Revolutionary War.
I waited, ears tuned to hear the name of my great uncle Lawrence, a casualty World War I.

I like to think still of Memorial Day as it was observed in years gone by--without the contrivance of four-day weekends.  It was a time when folks were not ashamed to feel patriotic, a day when flags hung from white front porches, a time when real flowers were laid on graves old--or more recent.
It was a good time to be a young person growing up in a small town.


  1. I wonder why we don't still feel this way? Well, some of us do, I know. Maybe many of us, but it isn't fashionable anymore. Instead we see screaming commercials about car sales and special financing and take a vacation and have a great Memorial Day. Whatever happened to the real meaning of the day. I am sorry it seems lost.

  2. We dont have a Memorial Day as such although in November we 'remember the war dead and there is a 2 mins silence every where at 11am.

    It was wonderful reading your memories of the day and remembering your Dad