I cried at the Memorial Day parade this year and not for the reasons you’d expect.
It was sad to see the two mothers perched on borrowed convertibles cradling framed photos of their sons who never returned from the desert. The sounds of Taps and the metallic rhythm of a snare drum rattled my insides. The lone World War II veteran pushed in a wheelchair by his grandson held his right hand above his heart.
Sitting on the street curb I had a front-row view of the parade. An assortment of town fanfare scrolled by me at 5 miles an hour. There was the big lime green fire truck, official dignitaries waving in suits, and marching children. Lots of marching children including my now nearly 16-year-old son, pounding on the bass drum with the high school marching band.
My hometown’s Fourth of July parade was considered one of the largest in New England. I recall the weather was always hot and humid and if my family found a shady spot along the route, the two-hour event ended with the sun glaring at us. My mom prepared a batch of Kool-Aid and cookies and dressed my three sisters and me in matching red, white, and blue gingham or handsewn sundresses that we twirled in with pride. The clowns were more frightening than funny — old white men in make-up squirted water from their lapels or wrestled a balloon into a knotted poodle. I did love seeing Miss East Longmeadow waving from her float and I’d dream of being her someday like that one pageant winner who married Goldie Hawn’s son. Eventually, I ended up being in the parade for four years, wearing the required scarlet and gray high school band uniform and playing the Great Kiev on my flute over and over while winding through the town’s main thoroughfare.
This wasn’t my first Memorial Day parade in my adopted town. I had attended a few parades over the years to watch my son represent the Cub Scouts, the Little League, the soccer team, and now the high school band. His 6-foot-tall frame passed me. My eyes followed the top of his head until he was a tuft of fuzz on the horizon, a Monet painting with faceless heads bobbing up and down. He was like a helium balloon on a string you accidentally let go only to watch the breeze swish it away. I reached out for him, but he was gone.
When he marched for Cub Scout Troop 356 at the tender age of six, I thought, “oh there is so much time ahead of us. So many more parades to watch him in. He’s still a baby.” He and his little buddies in their oversized blue shirts, pinned with badges and plaid scarves, wobbled as they carried the heavy barbell-like parade banner. A year later, he marched with his Little League team donning a baseball cap and t-shirt sponsored by the pizza shop in town.
I wiped a tear from my cheek, rose from my blanket, and blinked at the neighboring parade-goers as they laughed and talked about their barbecue plans for later in the day. I ambled through the crowd toward the end of the parade where all the marchers congregated and disassembled. Strangers milled about.
I found my son talking to some school friends. Once, scrappy little boys, their voices had deepened to a baritone and their sideburns needed a shave. They talked about cars and English projects and summer plans. There were girls to dwell on and jobs to get and parties to be invited to. They were emersed in their own life parade, filing toward the future, funneling to the next phase, and leaving a trail of memories for me to sift through along with some framed photographs of my little boy to cradle.