By Bruce Mastracchio
… May. It’s a month I can’t even begin to think of without thinking about Memorial Day. The pathways of my mind conjure up colors of red, white and blue. I decorate my house and yard with flags and banners, and troop down to Main Street to watch the Memorial Day parade, which, just a few years ago, I had a hand in organizing and directing.
My thoughts drift to flags and wreaths, and gaily decorated bikes. And parades. How can you forget the parades? I lived for parades. In fact, that’s how I got involved in running them. First, I criticized how bad they had become. Then I got challenged to join the group and make a difference, and finally, I presided over the largest parade in East Greenwich history. It was fun. It was patriotic. It was what life should be, if only for a morning in May.
Then, there is The Reason we celebrate this day. We can’t ever forget that….
This rendition of “Rems & Mems” is dedicated to those guys who served in our armed forces. To those who served and fought and were hurt, either mentally or physically, and to those guys who gave that “last full measure of devotion.”
To Don R. (gone now) who lost an arm and his brother, Frank (also departed) who didn’t. To George, who is forever attached to the 24th Division, and Al, my “Short Uncle,” who saw the bloodiest battles of WWII from North Africa, to Sicily, to Monte Cassino.
To all those guys from EG, who had their lives defined by WWII, and to “Tar’s Boys,” who five short years later, gave it their all in Korea.
And to Mark and Billy, who paid the ultimate price in Vietnam, and Freddy and Joe, who returned, but will never be the same again. To ALL of YOU, who did not shirk your duty to this country, no matter how muddled the orders were, and from whom they came. Just for that YOU will always be MORE.
And lastly, to two recent deaths of veterans from that war. To Karl N., who did not like my largest parade because he thought there was too much levity in it (Hooters Girls for one), but who fought for my right to put it on, whether he liked it or not, and finally, to Rauni H., one of the finest men I have ever met, who fought the enemy in hand-to-hand combat in the Pacific, but was done in last week from a lifetime of smoking cigarettes. A self-made man, who could build a house or a canoe and live off the land via hunting, fishing or gardening and raise a fine family on top of it. May God greet you both.
This is the America I grew up with, and the people who stir me the most. Not the politicians, or the corporate magnates, or the movie stars.
Just down-to-earth common everyday people, who rise to the occasion when needed and go back to their normal everyday lives when things are over. They are my Cincinnatus model. I will miss each and every one of them….
The days are usually warm and sunny when I think of them, these last Mondays in May. They are always days of memories. Of traditions. Of honoring the dead. The war dead. The relatives who have gone on ahead. Those people known so well at one time, who are now so very dead, resting for eternity in well-kept cemeteries kept pristine by the living. They reside down there with kings, queens, the famous and not so famous.
As my mother used to say, “When the game is done, the pawn and the king go back into the same box.” Goes for the game of Life, too, I guess.
I go to St. Patrick’s Cemetery to visit my father, my grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends. And, recently, my mother, snatched from us in the cruelest fashion of all.
But, Memorial Day eases all that some. It is a day of visiting those gravesites. Paying respect. Visiting with friends, whose moms and dads are buried in graves right near our family plot. We have visited with them this way for years and years.
It is a day of reflecting, so we don’t ever forget. Those who gave dearly. Those so near us who lived dearly, and a reminder that in the end life wins, and death collects us all. So we don’t forget. Don’t ever forget.
But Memorial Day is also a day for the living. In those years in “old E.G.” the parade always made two runs down Main Street. It would start in the Textron parking lot, or later, up on Division Street and wind up on Peirce. Then the marchers, in their ever-proud uniforms, captured by the box-brownie cameras of their friends and family along the route, would step off proudly and head south down Main Street of “Our Town.”
The first stop was the placing of the wreaths at the Memorial Stadium by Eldredge School. Then there would be the slow step march into Greenwich Cemetery, where the winners of the local school contest would recite the Gettysburg Address. Of course, the Guard would fire their gun salute, and the bugler would play taps, answered by the ” ghost bugler”, hidden out of sight, so as to appear answering ” from beyond.”
Then the parade would sail its shadows down First Avenue, make a right on Second Street, and wend its way to St. Patrick’s Cemetery to honor the Catholic dead, who answered with their silence.
Now it was back north on Main Street. The loyal townspeople, still at their posts waving, and cheering, and snapping their photos to capture those moments for all time, for those to come.
Past the reviewing stand at the Methodist Church, and finally, to the Court House (now Town Hall), where more wreaths were placed, more guns fired, more bugles sounded and more prayers said, before the Parade Marshall dismissed everyone to return to their homes.
There was just something electric about the day. Something to salt our lives with. To preserve it for remembering and retelling. For our kids and their kids and on.
Was the death important? Yes and no. Everything that happens before death is what matters. But, by honoring death on this day, we give significance to our own lives, and to theirs. Especially those, who gave their lives in defense of the principles we like to think this country stands for.
It’s got to be the journey, not the getting there that’s good. At least, that’s what we like to think as we ride our tandem ponies down the trail of our own path to that last rendezvous….
Remember, good friend? How we used to fly down Main Street, of ‘Our Town’? Our bikes were bedecked in colored crepe paper of red, white and blue
entwined in the spokes.
We waved and hollered to a sea of faces, all familiar to us then. They even waved back. We used to weave in and out, back and forth, among the marchers in the parade. Knights on colorful, wheeled chargers.
REMEMBER how we used to scramble to see who could get the cartridge shells after they fired the gun salute? AND, we always tried to find the Ghost Bugler!
I returned yesterday. It was different. The faces are still there, but grey and wrinkled, and not so familiar.
NOW, I am they, and my son is me, with still a chance to love the fragile magic of a small town. AND, the cycle repeats itself, BUT is never really the same again.
The writer still lives in his beloved hometown of East Greenwich. He still loves the EG Parades. he still follows the the same routes that have been followed by his family for over 100 years. He tried to instill in his children the ” fragile magic” for once it’s gone, it will be hard to ever, ever bring back. Unfortunately, EG is no longer the EG of the past. It has grown and changed, and not necessarily for the better. And, the writer’s children have moved on to other places; New York City, Ecuador and South Carolina. They have all gone away. BUT, he still has the memories, and will be at the Memorial Day parade on Monday.