Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Summer Holidays

I had forgotten how much I love the summer holidays. When I was self-employed, I more or less had control of my time and to a certain extent took it for granted. Running two businesses required flexibility and it often worked out that I would be home at odd hours of the day to spend some time with the family. Now that I work for someone else, my time is no longer my own. The crew I'm on works long hours in the summer and I often don't arrive at home until between seven or eight. By the time I schedule in some Saturday gigs, and church, and gardening on Sunday, it can literally be weeks before I finally get a day off.

Monday was the first holiday off from work and it was much needed. We're into the thick of the long hour season and under the gun on three job sites to boot. I had an obnoxiously long gig on Saturday, and the family was such a wreck on Sunday that we never made it to church. Monday however was a pleasant day, weather and otherwise. The children arose early enough to get in a nice family breakfast, and we even had time for a little gardening at a casual pace before the parade.

Then everything shifted. As I went "off duty" to walk to the parade route on the other street, my perspective shifted. For those of you not familiar with Alexander we actually have four streets. Main Street is always referred to as such, Railroad Ave has next to nothing on it, and the bulk of people who live on Church and Buffalo streets can casually refer to the street they don't live on as "the other street" and everyone get's along fine because we all know where everybody else lives. But back to my perspective.

As I looked around, I noticed how the town had turned out for the occasion. All the lawns had already been mowed (except mine which was still in progress, more on that another time) the houses spruced up, the greenery fully developed and the gardens well under way. And just as the town was all dressed up, so were the townsfolk. Everyone was in their usual "spot", the places where they have watched parades since time immemorial in folding chairs, from porches, or just sprawling on the grass. I could draw a map in my head and tell you just where each family sits, and quite likely what they're wearing too, but red, white and blue is an easy guess. Most families from Church Street just cut cross-lots and perch with neighbors on the other street.

Old ladies who have been old my entire life sit regally on folding chairs, bundled up in cardigans with their one piece slip-ons perched on their glasses to fight the glare. The oldest gentlemen hold down lawn chairs next to their brides, observing the festivities with far off looks that hint at memories of parades gone by. Younger families throng the sidewalks, strollers in front or Radio Flyers behind, kids running and screaming everywhere until only the practiced eye can tell one brood from another. The men and the women stand in knots, discussing work or more likely how the garden's coming along.

Then the parade finally begins, promptly ten minutes late. Memorial Day doesn't warrant the grand extravaganza that the Fireman's Carnival does, but it is a parade none the less and we drink it in gladly as if savoring the first bottle of last fall's homemade wine. Veterans of four wars march by with the colors, usually just a few of them and fathers tell their boys, "clap for those men!" Aged veterans in lawn chairs get a steely look and somehow manage to seem as though they are standing at attention.

The Fireman's Band is next. They are always deeply enjoyed, not so much for their grandeur, for there is many a band with more flair and greater numbers, but their perseverance is second to none. Many members no longer carry music, they know all the tunes and roll them off by the numbers as easily as saying their names. The high school band is next. Amazingly they are not clad in Seventies-era polyester this year but still look tired and sweaty even in short sleeves. Then come the kids, first Boy Scout Troop 650, then several varieties of Girl Scouts, a second grade class singing patriotic tunes, some toddlers piloting a plastic monster truck with no apparent affiliation and so on.

Then the rear is brought up by the townsfolk themselves. Instead of hanging a right at the Deli (which in Alexander means gas station) to head for the carnival grounds, the bands lead such folk as care to pay their respects down to the cemetery on Railroad Ave. About half do. Speeches are given, tunes are played, sometimes a salute is fired. Then the lot of them walk right back up the middle of the street whether anyone's minding the traffic for them or not; just in time to get the dogs on the grill and fish the potato salad out of the fridge.

I wax so nostalgic about it because that's just what it is. This is the small town America that everyone talks about like a deceased relative. We're still here! Right down to the school boys with fresh buzz cuts and stubbly chinned gram-pahs in Agway hats! Four times a summer we get the old place all dolled up and drink in the spectacle like it's our own private Norman Rockwell painting. Even better than that though, we know their names... heck, we're related to half of em! The glorious, awkward, earnest magic of it all is such a part of our lives that we hardly notice it, though we need it like we need air to breathe.

I've never been to a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, nor a Tournament of Roses and I don't plan to. You can keep 'em, thanks. Four story floats made entirely of geraniums and coconut shavings don't hold a candle to the Sunday School float built on the same tired hay wagon. Bands of thousands just make it hard to spot the babysitter on the piccolo and our friend's son on the trumpet, flopping by in the heat in their tired sneakers. It's utterly delicious. I'd invite you to stop by for one, but you might not get high from it like I do. We'll save you a piece of curb anyway...

1 comment:

  1. Jon,

    This one took me back to my hometown's Memorial Day parade both as a little kid riding my bike decked out in red, white and blue and later with Miles and I in the band. Miles used to play taps at the cemetery.
    Thanks for the memory jog.


    =) K

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