Yesterday, our town held its Memorial Day parade, as I imagine yours did, too. I love the parade. It’s almost exactly the same year after year, and I try never to miss it. This year, I went with my mom; the roads were closed, and she had to drop me off and drive around to park at the church. I crutched it down Main Street; my neighbor and friend, Lois, ran over to say hello, commiserate about crutches and compare our red, white and blue outfits.
I made it to the church lawn and sat on the curb, not coincidentally next to a therapy dog and a puppy. Everyone was quite nice about my crutches; one young dad offered me his chair, but I opted for the curb. My other mom, Carol, found me, and then we watched as my sainted mother looked and looked for us, ignoring our bellows of “Mom! Noel! Over here!” It was only my whistle that got her attention.
The parade’s grand marshal was Mr. Rea, a veteran, driven in a car by his son, a former state police officer, and accompanied by his son, an active duty soldier and my son’s classmate. “I babysat him,” I said of Officer Rea. “He loved me.”
“He pulled me over for speeding once,” my mom said. “I said, ‘I taught you catechism, young man,’ and he let me go with a warning.”
We stood for the veterans—a few from WWII, more from Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East. The board of selectman walked past—Laura, our first selectman who knows everyone by name. There was Kim, who makes the best cakes and is always so delighted to see everyone. Jen, who started thousands of kids running in her Go Far program, and her beautiful daughter, dressed as Game of Thrones characters with a dragon behind them. My dear friend Christine, the head librarian, dressed as the Cat in the Hat and having a ball on her float. A fleet of antique tractors, as we are a farm town. The three bands—middle school, junior high, high school, filling the air with music and drumbeats, and the flag team, looking so festive. The Boy Scouts carried huge photos of two Connecticut soldiers who died in combat; they didn’t look much older than the Scouts themselves.
The kids on the sports teams pelted us with lollipops, and the orchard folks tossed donut holes in little plastic bags. Carol caught one like she was an MLB outfielder. The firefighters blasted their sirens and air horns, which I love. An old military propeller plane, heavy and gray, thrilled us as it nearly buzzed the parade route.
By the end of the parade, we were best friends with both dogs and their people. Mom helped me get up, then I helped Carol get up, and she handed me my crutches, and we made our way back to the car.
But what stuck with me most was the sight of the little old man with the World War II Veteran’s cap on, sitting on a float, waving his gnarled hand as we cheered and wiped away a few tears. I hope he knows we remember his service. That we know what he gave. More than likely, he saw friends die, and thought he’d die, too, and that he saw things that he can never forget, no matter how much he might want to. Though it’s a million to one shot, maybe he crossed paths with my grandfathers.
He was probably my son’s age when he did his part to save the world.
It’s good to remember.