After a two-year hiatus due to Covid, the annual Memorial Day parade returned to the Town of Bethlehem in Upstate New York. It’s one of those small-town parades that find that balance between a martial and a community spirit.
It starts just a couple of blocks from my house so I walked down this morning to offer a hearty sendoff. A few veterans, many firefighting vehicles, and community organizations led the way. The Shriners in their noisy little go-carts drive in daring figure eights. A couple of fancy classic cars crawl along, including one of my favorites, the early 1970s Buick 225 that conjures high school memories.
Fife and drum marching bands follow, their whistling and pounding recalling Revolutionary times. I’ve always liked the bagpipe players, who warmed up in front of me before joining the procession. The high school band didn’t show this year, which was disappointing because they are quite accomplished, but a lot of the kids’ teams and groups marched—soccer, lacrosse, hockey, plus the scouts—accompanied by some of the younger moms and dads and strollers. Many years ago, I marched a few times in the parade with my kids. Today, I walked down to see it by myself. No one else was interested.
Plenty of American flags were flying, and it felt bittersweet. The flag in front of the firehouse was half-mast, in honor of military personnel who’ve given their lives serving their country, but that half-mast could represent broader mourning and grieving taking place in our country today. The insanity of the mass shootings, one after the other, and nothing being done about it. The divisive culture wars. The bought-and-paid-for politicians. The inexcusable cruelty. A house in my neighborhood is flying a banner the size of a car that says “Trump Won: I Know It and You Know It.” What can you possibly say to that person?
I didn’t put my flag out today—I felt conflicted and couldn’t bring myself to do it. If anything, I’d be tempted to fly it upside down, a traditional sign of peril.
Back to the parade. The Lions marched. And an organization that serves the needs of neglected youth. And of course the philanthropic Shriners and their funny fez hats and go-carts. And other do-gooders that we all need.
The kids’ teams have a tradition of tossing candy to spectators lining the route. I got lucky and picked up a mini package of Starbursts. One cherry, one orange—and I left with a sweet taste in my mouth.