We walked down the sidewalk and found our spots near the street, making room for the two strollers and our bottoms along the wet curb. It was sticky, the rain from last night still hanging in the air. The kids were excited, but they didn’t know why. They knew they were about to witness a parade, but what exactly a parade was, they didn’t know.
The emcee on the loudspeaker made Matt and me laugh, as his introduction turned into a passionate speech a little too long to keep the attention of the younger crowd. This man was beaming with pride for his country and the work he had done to make this parade happen.
We all stood to say the pledge of allegiance, and I looked on and smiled as Caleb and Hannah Grace both placed their little hands over their hearts, saying the familiar words. A little more talking from the emcee, and then we sang the National Anthem. The parade would begin.
The parade didn’t have the glitz and glamor of other parades I had seen, and if I had forgotten exactly where I lived, I was quickly reminded by the 30 or so tractors that made their appearance in the line-up. While Dacula,Georgia, is growing, there is still a strong segment that wants to hold on to that small town feel.
And small town it did feel. One high school marching band filled the air with the sounds of horns and drums, a relatively small group of students marching in matching shorts and t-shirts, their sheet music taped to the backs of the kids in front of them. The politicians made their rounds shaking hands while their team of followers scurried behind, passing out glossy flyers while keeping their place in the parade. Our emcee was quick to point out that the parade did not endorse any candidate, and since we lived in America, these candidates had the right to exercise their free speech.
Hannah Grace later said that her favorite part of the parade was the horsies. Rodeo women dressed in blue-sequined shirts sat atop the large horses that helped close the show. Caleb, of course, loved the candy. Oh, the candy! Fistfuls thrown from every vehicle, every float with hand-painted signs, every Boy Scout and Girl Scout troupe that walked by waving. Like little ants the children were drawn to the pieces that bounced off the street; like vultures this mother and father waited to weed out the lollipops and Jawbreakers from the loot.
The little beauty queens waved while sitting prim with perfect posture, while the tumblers flipped, causing Matt and me to wince with each back-handspring thinking about our own wrists and ankles taking that kind of impact on the street.
It was a simple parade.
Proudly, our active duty, veterans, and retirees represented the different branches of our Armed Forces. Some marched displaying the uniforms that they wore during their time of service. Others drove by in their recruiting vehicles, music pounding out the back. My heart swelled when the Air Force Junior ROTC marched together in solemnity displaying the blue I had come to know a few years ago. And I felt the warm tears in my eyes when the WAVES drove by, women who were once young and brave serving their country, now some of the few remaining to tell of their time of service.
We all cheered and waved, smiling at those who had served, were serving, or would serve our country. We wanted to thank them for all they had or would sacrifice for us. In our little spot in this great big country, we had gathered to give thanks.
And we paused. The boisterous noise of the crowd fell to silence except for the occasional child speaking. 173 men and women carrying white signs, each with the name, age, and date that one of our service members from Georgia had died since 9/11, caused us to pause. As I watched these 173 people walk by, my heart felt heavy, and I brushed away the tears. A 20-year-old. A 47-year-old. For some reason those two ages remained in my memory. Someone’s son, possibly someone’s father. They made the sacrifice that most of us were not willing to make.
We know better. Matt and I have veterans and active duty military on both sides of our family. I am a veteran. Yet this is the first time that we have paused with our children on Memorial Day. We look forward to the holiday, a day off with Daddy, and we thank God for those who died for us when we pray, but we rarely pause.
As the parade went on, we would squint our eyes, for the sun had made an appearance along with the faithful Georgia humidity. Matt made a quick trip to the car for sunscreen, and we painted our kids’ faces white. Chloe managed to stay awake; although, she did her best to recline in her little stroller. I don’t know which was affecting her more, the lack of a nap or the intense sun and heat. Hannah Grace lost her festive red and white sparkly ponytail holder somewhere along the way, and Caleb spent more time with the boy next to us looking for candy than with his own family.
When the parade was over, we grabbed our strollers and made our way back towards the car while the rest of the throng packed up their lawn chairs and candy. The heat had drained us, and we were all tired.
It was a simple parade. It didn’t have the glitz and glamour of other parades I had seen, but it caused me to pause. And considering the reason for our holiday, it was the very least I could do.