I used to roll my eyes at this patriotic holiday, but my husband and sons have made me sentimental.
My husband Frank, the proverbial king of everything corny, loves taking a good factory tour (or even a bad one), watching cheesy musicals and falling for flagrant tourist traps. There aren't too many old-fashioned traditions he won't abide by. It's my job to resist, roll my eyes and suggest hipper, more with-it alternatives. On occasion, he wins — and sometimes, I'm glad he does. Such is the case with Memorial Day parade.
When I was a kid, I marched in my hometown's slightly anemic parade, which stretched for a mile-and-a-half from the 18th-century graveyard to the municipal building. Parents — though not mine — lined sidewalks, wielding miniature American flags and cameras, while I rolled my eyes and complained about my sore feet. By 13, I thought it was unsophisticated and banal. My husband grew up in the same town, but playing trombone in our high school's huge marching band meant his parade memories were star-spangled uniforms and full of cheer. Why Are Women Attracted To Men In Uniform?
After marrying and living elsewhere, Frank and I bought a house back in our hometown, and five years later walked the three blocks to the parade route with a newborn. A few years after that, we strolled downtown with our preschooler and his younger brother. The entire outing took only an hour or so, including post-parade pizza or ice cream. Maybe we'd see a familiar face — a high school friend marching with the kindergarten T-ball team or a neighbor with the rescue squad volunteers. Frank hoisted each of our boys on his shoulders, waved a flag and insisted we stay until the end. But the closed roads, choked parking and glad-handing local politicos, allowed me to dismiss the entire thing as a lot of hooey. How To Plan A Tantrum-Free Family Vacation
Sometimes the boys slept through the sirens or covered their ears, but eventually they grew to love the fire engines and antique cars — even the glad-handing politicos tossing Tootsie Rolls from parade floats. When each of them entered first grade and signed up for Boy Scouts, I took my place on the sidewalk while they marched with Frank, naturally, the scout leader. 7 Reasons To Fall In Love With A Military Man
Feeling silly, I half-heartedly waved a tiny flag and pointed our digital camera. At first, the boys tired early and drooped by parade's end. As the years passed and as they grew older, though, I noticed the boys begin to have more energy and pride. One year, some Scout parents built a float on a flatbed and you'd have thought my younger son had won tickets to Disney World. I usually brought along my in-laws to sit in lawn chairs I'd set out hours earlier. Even though they were in their late 80s and the days were viciously humid, they came with their proud smiles, faded small flags and 1980s camera. How To Plan A Successful Staycation
Most years, the boys waved back and smiled when I pointed the camera. When he became a teenager, my older son began to simply nod in my direction, and last year he just stared straight ahead — more with confidence than with indifference. One year, one of the boys was suddenly strong enough to carry a banner, and his brother, the heaviest flagpole. Soon, I began to recognize every passing face in the parade.
For 10 years, we cut short family weekend trips to get back for the Monday parade. To teach the boys the true meaning of Memorial Day, each year Frank took them to the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) building, for the short, solemn ceremony before the parade, explaining to them about what "old guys," many with canes and walkers, did for us.
Two years ago, on an April evening, bad news arrived: There would be no parade this year due to our small town's budget cuts. It was either cancel the parade or close the library for six months; at least that's what they reported in our town weekly newspaper. It was just a one-year thing; the parade will be back, the newspaper said.
We pretended it didn't matter, and made plans to be away that day. And the next year, the parade did return. But by then, I realized that what we do Memorial Day morning, for that short hour, had grown into a family ritual more vivid and vital than any growth chart or photo album. It mattered.
This year, the parade is back again, albeit along an altered route which takes into account increased traffic and other municipal considerations. This is my 17-year-old older son's last year to march, and I suspect that even if the parade lasted just one block, he'd be on time. I know I'll be there, flag in hand, cell phone aimed in their direction — ready to capture the moment.