This past Monday, Memorial Day, I spent pretty much the first half of the day attending parades. That's right, I said parades. As in more than one. Two to be exact. And, while I enjoy a good small town parade just as much as the next one, it was only by association with a certain high school marching band that I came to find myself watching two that day.
I only bring this up as a segue into the real meat of the story.
After parade number one finished, the certain high school marching band was supposed to play a number or two at a memorial service at the cemetary in small town number one and then board the school busses to small town numbered two for parade number two. Not wanting to get caught in traffic, I high-tailed it out of small town number one and headed directly to small town number two to find a parking space reasonably close to the end of the parade route. My goal was to pick up my marchers and make it back home in time to have a beer at an early enough hour to feel as though I celebrated Memorial Day in true coal region style. Too late in the day, you see, and you are not really celebrating the holiday - you are just another pitiful drinker. And we don't want that tag now, do we?
So I make it into small town number two, find a good parking spot and set out to find out how long I have to wait before the parade starts. It was the first time I was in this particular town for this particular parade so I also had to find out the route it was going to take. My guess was that it would be coming down the street lined with folding lawn chairs and a sofa or two but you just never know...
I found a kind looking older man and queried as to the start time. "11:00 is what I'm told" he says. I look at my watch. 10:10. Hopefully he wasn't lied to. I had about 50 minutes to kill in a town that has exactly one store which is a small time grocery store/sandwich shop. I briefly thought about perusing the aisles of the store but figured they would have the same canned peas and jet-puffed marshmallows every other store in Schuylkill County has. Instead, I bought a hot dog from the woman with the gas grill in front of the store and decided to wander about looking at the houses and mingling with the people.
Again, with small town being so small, there isn't exactly a vast array of architecture to look at. As I wandered, I found myslef paying more attention to the 2 liter soda bottles that were fashioned into decorative spinning things and the people already enjoying their Memorial Day beers. There was a staggering amount of both.
I was keeping my eye out for the 6 school bus caravan that would signal the arrival of our marching band. It was about 10 minutes before the start time of the parade and I didn't catch a glimpse of any busses. Right about then, my daughter called me to say they were on their way. "Cutting it a little bit close, aren't they?" I asked her. She then explained how they were delayed at the memorial service and, had I not been in such a rush to find a good parking spot in small town number two, I would have witnessed one of the memorial service attenders passing out and konking his punkin head on a tombstone on his way to taking a face-down nap in the cemetery grass. Damn...I always miss the action.
Eventually, I found myself on a corner that, judging by the crowd gathering there, seemed to be the hub of the hubbub. I figured this would be a good place to stand and take it all in and, with hot dog in hand, I looked every bit the local parade goer.
I noticed an older woman slowly making her way toward the corner. As I watched her approach, I took in the whole picture: festive patriotic sweatshirt, maroon pants, jacket carried ever-so-gently over arm from which dangled one of the largest pocket-books I've every seen (old ladies here don't have purses, they have pocket-books), and sensible running shoes - probably cross trainers. I thought about how she's probably lived here all her life, marking the years with each passing parade. Someone's grandmother, who will probably have family meeting her or stopping by her house later to take her out to visit graves. She probably worked in one of the local garment factories before they closed down, one by one, leaving the women to return to nests either long empty or still brimming with mouths to feed. She probably has little doilies on the arms of her sofa and plastic grapes in a bowl on the window sill. Maybe she has a little dog that runs and barks around the peonies growing in her meticulous yard. Her husband probably was in the service and this parade most likely means more to her than I can ever know. She was amost to the spot where I was standing and I had conjured such an existence for her that I could have thrown my arms arond her in a big hug just because.
She started to rummage around in her purse and stopped right next to me. I was expecting a "Oh, I can't seem to find my watch...do you know if the parade will start soon?" Or perhaps, "My heavens. What on earth did I do with my hankie?" At which point I would graciously offer one of my clean napkins.
What I got was..."Goddammit...I can't find my son-of-a-bitchen lighter! Where the frick did I put it? I can't find anything in this goddamned bag it's so friggin' big!"
I did not have a light to offer. Only conversation. Which I did. Then I finished my hot dog, watched the parade and enjoyed the wonder of it all.