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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Before the Parade Passes By

The older I get, the more I despise certain holidays and appreciate others.  On the "more despise" list are New Year's Eve and St. Patrick's Day.  On the "more appreciate" list is Memorial Day.  All the others currently occupy the same place on my emotional reactionary radar as they always have.  I will keep you posted if any move up or down in my rankings. 

This is kind of the same type of enjoyment you get from hearing about NFL power rankings.  I know.

Memorial Day is sneaky in its awesomeness.  Everyone has a vague sense of its meaning: honor the people who have fought to keep this country the type of place where a woman can decide if she wants to vote into the presidency a man who happens to be black.  But no one quite understands what makes Memorial Day remarkably different from Veterans' Day, other than that the former is in May and the latter is in November.  Everyone looks forward to the long weekend Memorial Day affords, but no one expects a card or a present to mark the occasion.  It's a holiday that asks little of its celebrants while recognizing those who sacrificed a lot.

Therein lies the awesomeness.  When's the last time you ever had a to-do list associated with Memorial Day?  Never.  What's the last Memorial Day gift you stressed over?  You don't have an answer, because that's a trick question.  Who's the last relative you dreaded coming over for the big Memorial Day meal?  No one, because on Memorial Day, you only have to be with the people you choose to be with.

And when's the last time you took a moment or two or ten to think about the guys and gals that wake up in the morning to a pang of homesickness and a knot of worry about whether the day will bring a roadside bomb or a downed helicopter or a surprise Joe Biden pep talk?  Hopefully yesterday is your answer.  But before yesterday, your answer was probably Veterans' Day 2011.

So on Memorial Day you go to a parade in the morning and you give the smallest thanks in the history of thanking in relation to the gift you've received.  You clap at the uniforms, cheer for the bands, and maybe tear up at the speech or the singing of the national anthem.

Then you go home and you fire up the grill.  You see some friends.  You get a sun burn.  You keep forgetting it's Monday.  You watch some basketball.  You go to sleep.

Thank you, armed forces of all generations.  You do the hard and dirty work and only ask for a parade and a burger in return.  Sure makes Jesus look like a pretty demanding guy.

Yesterday, we celebrated in high Memorial Day fashion.  I dressed my kids in red, white and blue.  My husband, mother and I took them to our town's parade.  We waved the little American flags the parade hosts were passing out to the 200 or so people lining the parade route...which spans about a quarter of a mile.

Needless to say, our town's parade is quaint out of one eye and kind of a let-down out of the other.  The attendees are either families like mine, with young children, or our town's oldest citizens.  In fact, Memorial Day may be the one day of the year that older set breaths natural air.  It makes for a somewhat odd mix along the parade route.  The younger set is ferociously prowling for the free candy, and the older set is maintaining a strict proximity to the ambulance camped out on the corner.

This year's parade lasted about 7 minutes.  Less than the time it takes me to check out of the grocery store.  Here's the breakdown:

  • Minute 1: 8 old fashioned cars driven by old fashioned humans
  • Minute 2: 1 old fashioned sleigh or something driven by grandma and mama, who spent most of her time making sure her daughter (holding a pail for some reason) doesn't fall off
  • Minute 3: 1 girl on a unicycle holding the hand of 1 gullible friend
  • Minute 3:30: 3 make-shift "floats" with metal folding chairs, on which sit veterans from unidentified wars waving nervously as the "float" lists and creaks
  • Minute 4: 1 team of spelling bee contestants lugging their purple-spangled trophy in a red metal wagon
  • Minute 5: 1 cluster of volunteer firefighters, followed by 1 firetruck
  • Minute 6: 80 highly-embarrassed high schoolers pretending to be a marching band and playing the exact same song that faux-band has played at this event since 1983
  • Minute 7: 133 6-10 year-olds, plus their parents, wearing their Little League uniforms and carrying sagging bags of candy
Not surprisingly, but perhaps inappropriately, it's the last group that really gets the crowd riled up.  Everyone was quietly oohing at the old cars and scratching their heads at the unicyclist and the spelling bee cluster.  The band elicited lots of "poor things" comments.  The actual veterans got polite claps and waves.  But the Little Leaguers.  Boy oh boy.  It was as if Harry Potter were giving a piggy-back to Justin Bieber while he read the Hunger Games.  The young portion of the crowd erupted in squeals and extended hands that looked like a greedy version of a politically incorrect hand salute.  The hysteria of mere dozens of sugar-jonesing youngsters is a thing to behold.

Not to brag, but I had anticipated the hysteria-wave.  To be frank, the previous 6 minutes of the parade had been something of a snooze.  I had talked up the parade big-time.  Even invited another family to come with us.  And up until the Little Leaguers, it had inspired the same degree of patriotism that cutting a "Made in Taiwan" label off your t-shirt does.  I felt responsible for the let-down, but figured I might have a chance of salvaging the morning with the whole candy thing. 

When I saw the arrival of the polyester uniforms on the horizon, I got my pack of candy-eaters ready.  I put them front and center on the curb.  I showed them how to make grabby fists.  I screamed "this is what we came here for!  Make me proud!"  And I waited for it to rain dum-dums.

Well, there was a barrage of sugar, but it didn't make it to the sidelines of the parade, as any decent barrage of sugar should.  Instead, those wily Little Leaguers were simply THROWING THE CANDY AT EACH OTHER.  Those kindergartners and 3rd graders snatched their caps off their heads and started filling them with the Swedish Fish that the Pizza Pirates were throwing, or the nerds that the Wal-Mart Walruses were underhanding.  My assembled preschoolers watched on in increasing panic and horror.

It was right about the time my daughter reached for a jawbreaker and had it ripped out of her hands by someone wielding a catcher's mitt that I did it.  I jumped into the oncoming traffic of the slow-moving parade, spied a lollipop shaped like a princess castle, and went for it.  Just as I began to smoosh my son in the Baby Bjorn to reach down to grab what was rightfully mine, a 4-foot-thief came in to steal it.  Like any mature woman and mother would do, I STUCK MY FOOT OUT AND STEPPED ON THE TREAT SO HE COULDN'T TAKE IT.  Like some kid at a birthday party fighting for the pinata innards.

I woke from my trance only when my husband screamed out, over the din, "Abby!  What in Christ are you doing?!?"

I looked up, wiped the drool from my lip, and shame-facedly resumed my position on the curb. 

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you respect Memorial Day.  You take a perfectly good day and act like the worst version of yourself so that the heroes you're celebrating can feel that much better about themselves. 

In spite of myself, I still had a great day. 

See?  Memorial Day is indestructibly awesome.

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