Wednesday, June 01, 2011

He’ll Be There

A trusted commentator, who keeps track of such things, wrote on Memorial Day that many communities abandoned the traditional parades years ago. She said the holiday, originally established to honor Civil War dead, was becoming nothing more than a chance for family barbeques and other outings preceded by heavily promoted sales of outdoor merchandise. I was shocked.

By gum, Plainwell, Michigan, hasn’t abandoned our parade. People decked out in red, white, and blue came from near and far. The Martin Fire Department even dispatched a truck, and their village is seven or eight miles away. Imagine that.

I lucked out. A little bench in front of the Plainwell Ice Cream Company, the most popular place in town during summer, miraculously was empty. There I perched for the whole show.

Just as I settled down, a white-haired man wearing a Veterans of Foreign Wars outfit sat down on the other end of the bench. As he rose to offer up a salute when the honor guard carried Old Glory past us, I noticed his shirt and trousers were crisply pressed, the brass insignia on his collar and cap sparkled, and his black shoes gleamed. I also noticed, as the procession continued, veterans and military personnel in the parade often SALUTED HIM as they passed by our bench.

Things like that still happen in small towns.

The parade was almost a replica of those held a half-century ago in my hometown, which is just about the size of Plainwell. The high school band tried mightily to stay in some sort of formation and deliver a martial air. Children, young and old, followed the band in various costumes and vehicles. Restorers of old cars and tractors showed off their prize possessions.

Floats (I use the term very loosely) sponsored by businesses, churches, schools, and other organizations appeared at intervals. Most were decorated trucks of various sizes and vintages. Three displayed signs honoring a Plainwell boy killed in Afghanistan just a week earlier (see previous post). After the parade, a special ceremony at the city’s veteran’s memorial monument honored him. That was nice.

Everything wasn’t solemn, though. Few others seemed to make the connection, but I doubled over in laughter after a business “float” followed by a dozen girls decked out in Uncle Sam uniforms had passed. A point of local pride is that boys from our county formed the Federal unit that captured Confederate President Jefferson Davis near the end of the Civil War. Apparently unaware of which side Michigan was on, the operator of a CD player on the “float” programmed it to blare out the strains of “Dixie.”

What the heck, nobody in the parade was a professional, except the cops who kept things in order and the firemen who showed off their equipment. After the last police car signaled the end of the procession, many of the bystanders headed for an ice cream social on the lawn of the Community Center. The social was conducted by volunteers to benefit a women’s shelter charity.

The VFW guy and his wife just got up without a word and headed, arm-in-arm, for their car, which was parked not far from mine.

Abandon the Memorial Day Parade? I’ll bet if that old vet hears of any such nonsense, he’ll personally march through Plainwell to keep it from happening.


Big John said...

Here in the UK some towns and villages hold parades for various events. I live in the old fishing port of Whitstable which is famous for it's oysters and we hold an 'Oyster Day' parade in summer.
The UK holds 'Rememberence Day' parades all over the country to honour our war dead. There is a huge parade in London in November in which thousands of veterans (including some Americans) march. said...

Memorial Day is celebrated around here too, but I live 10 minutes from the Mall. The BIG holiday is July 4. Happy to hear tradition lives on in the hinterland.

Kay Dennison said...

We still have a parade here although it's dwindled in size. I try to go because I think it's important.

Sightings said...

I like your post -- very evocative. We still have a parade, but it doesn't sound as elaborate as yours. We have the fire brigade and the cops and a few local pols. After that it's all kids ... Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, the high school band, the middle school band, the soccer teams, the baseball teams, even the girl gymnastics group.

It's all pretty cool. What would Memorial Day be without a parade?

Ginnie said...

Agreed, Dick. The flags came out in abundance where I live and there was a small parade too. I loved it.

Kay Dennison said...

I love that kind of stuff!!!