Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day

It's a beautiful day today. In my memories of childhood Memorial Days were always like this, sunny and blue, although Coach Mom tells me that there were a few Memorial Day celebrations held in school due to rain. I grew up in a small town in the Catskills, and Memorial Day was definitely a town event, as opposed to a family day.

We kids woke up with excitement for the parade, which usually started at 11:00 a.m. The churches and civic groups made floats, and we'd run all over the neighborhood through wet dewy grass checking on the progress of tying crepe paper flowers on chicken wire sculptures, or what was being done to decorate the wagon the Boy Scouts or FFA were going to ride in.

The parade lined up at school, went from Maple Avenue, to Lindsley, to Union, then on to Main Street, past the traffic light at the corner (biggest crowds there), past the fire house, and eventually to the cemetery.

Very little, we marched with our classes, holding a bunch of fragrant purple and white lilacs from the bush that grew next to the house. In 3rd or 4th grade we started riding our bikes, bringing up the rear of the parade, red, white and blue crepe paper carefully pulled in circles through our bike spokes, playing cards affixed with clothespins to give a satisfying whap, whap, whap as we pedaled.

From 7th grade on, I was in the marching band. Some well-meaning band leader back in the 50s had purchased an expensive set of uniforms for the school band. They were heavy boiled wool, jacket and long pants, with a semi-Prussian hat with a jaunty white feathery plume, which strapped onto your head. We only wore the damn uniforms on Memorial Day, and occasionally 4th of July when it was hot. Therefore wearing them was misery. My high school band teacher marched alongside us with a spray bottle filled with water. When we stopped periodically to play, he'd spray us in the face, concentrating on the kids with the heaviest instruments. One year a girl in my class fainted dead away.

The veterans marched, or walked, or limped; from the really elderly men from WWI, to the scraggly Vietnam vets. Most of the Vietnam vets didn't participate. The rest of the parade consisted of the Ladies Auxiliary, the firemen, their Ladies Auxiliary, the town's oldest and newest fire truck, the police car, the Firemen's queen on the back of a convertible, with her court, and floats by the churches, the Women's Club, the Lions Club, the FFA, the FHA (Future Farmers of America, and Future Homemakers of America), the Grange, Gold Star mothers, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and various others. Despite all these participants, being such a small town, the parade was short, and never took more than 15 minutes to watch, although if you marched it was longer.

At the end of the parade, there was a short ceremony in the cemetery. Veterans were remembered, and a lone trumpeter hidden up on the mountain played "Taps". For me, the most powerful part was always the recitation of this poem:

IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

1 comment:

Big Daddy said...

Thanks for the memories kiddo, I can still hear George reading the poem; I always found myself wondering how he lost his eye.