Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

When I was growing up there was a neighborhood parade every year on the morning of Memorial Day. This was not a fancy parade. There were no floats, no beauty queens, no local politicians walked along smiling and throwing candy.

The rout was about 1.1 miles and entirely residential. A city permit was issued. A big red fire truck opened the parade, the local high school drum line followed by a police car closed the parade. At some point in the proceedings, a rented calliope rolled down the streets pulled by someone who owned a truck with a hitch and played by a neighborhood woman who gave piano lessons out of her home. Her husband was the parade planning committee.

In between marched anyone who showed up at the starting point -- a tiny park -- the morning of.

Boy and Girl Scout troops marched in their uniforms, waving and presumably earning a badge for their efforts. Each Boy Scout troop brought its own colors and color guard. A local VFW chapter marched with their own colors and color guard. Behind the VFW were all the bike entries; local kids who had decked out their six-speeds with crape paper and curling ribbon. The VFW members handed them tiny American flags that they grasped against their handle bars or worked into the vents of their helmets. Interspersed between the different the color guards, neighborhood children pulled wagons behind them, usually filled with stuffed animals or sports equipment.

My mother was a Girl Scout leader. And she liked parades. I don't think she had seen this parade before -- someone who lived on the route had told her about it and suggested our troop should march.

Since a good parade has floats, my mother and father engineered a float that third-graders could pull along a mile of pavement.

The float platform was a 4'x4' particle board that attached underneath to a rectangular base made of 2x4s which my father constructed to sit inside a neighbor's red wagon. We removed the signature red side panels from the Radio Flyer and the 2x4s nested perfectly into the solid base. Wobbling was minimal so long as we were gentle and avoided potholes. On top of this was staple gunned green patio grass. Then a red checkered napkin (for a picnic cloth) and four teddy bears.

The troop worked to dress the bears for a day outdoors, sunhats and baseball caps; wired Playskool food into their hands; double-sticky taped tea cups and plates with plastic hamburgers to the checkered napkin. A trail of plastic blank ants marched from the grass up to a slice of unattended pie. The length of the rout we switched off which which girl held the long metal wagon tongue/handle that pulled the float along. We made a banner bearing the logo Girl Scout Troop 989 carried on a dowel between two girls. The rest of us waved streamers as we marched along and waited our turns. One of the adults carried a battery powered tape player playing a cassette with "Picnic Time For Teddy Bears" recorded nine times on each side.

We marched along and a woman sitting on the curb with her family gasped, "Look! It's a float!"

My mother had no idea that we would win the prize for best float that year, or that we would be the first float the parade had ever seen. The second place winner was a red wagon with crape paper carrying a three foot tall Barney the Dinosaur with other plush friends.

The years that followed offered a proliferation of floats that used our concept, though in the three years that we entered -- Teddy Bear's Picnic, Friends Around the World and Up, Up and Away (yes, we made papier mache hot air balloons) -- always won first place.

Because floats should have fringe skirts, my mother spent hours shredding three layers of green rip-stop into quarter inch strips so that it would flutter along between the particle board and the street. Attached to the back of the float was a small round poster that had come from a stash of laminated, holiday-appropriate posters from a neighbor who was a retired first grade teacher. POW, MIA, R.I.P. our fallen troops. Like the green fringe, and the patio grass, the poster appeared on each of our Memorial Day floats.

Gee, said one of the women at the end of the parade celebration.  She was there to inspecting the spectacle and wonder of the parade's first ever float and see if it would be too much trouble to reproduce.  She pointed to the poster. That's a bit morbid, don't you think?

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