I started writing this blog July 4th. I had to edit the first sentence. My cousin said she was hoping I was finished “floating nowhere”, my last blog. Hopefully, I can get back on track again soon.
Nine days ago our little community held its annual 4th of July parade. I don’t have any idea how long the tradition has been going on, but it’s been happening as long as I have lived here, almost thirty-three years.
It’s a time when my neighbors bring lawn chairs to sit along the parade route. Since I live on the corner, the parade comes north past my house and turns the corner so it passes right in front of my house. This year three other neighbors joined me along with a friend whose father participates every year with the other citizens who are on patrol. She waves to him as he passes. Their relationship has been rocky for years but she still tries to connect once in a while.
Other neighbors stood on my lawn facing the other street. I didn’t recognize them. Perhaps I should have been more friendly and walked over to introduce myself but my yard is big and they seemed too far away. At that point I was only two weeks out of surgery and every step seemed to take the energy of twenty. My dog Ri-Leigh very calmly and patiently sat by the side of my chair as I remained seated.
The fire engines went by, the Marines with the flag, the boy scouts, the mayor in a convertible, and a variety of decorated cars. There were a multitude of children and even two dogs. Traditionally, wrapped candy is thrown to the spectators. A large portion of the neighborhood Baptist church joined the parade this year passing out tracts and coins engraved with the ten commandments. I missed the sheriff’s mounted patrol this year.
I looked across the street and there was Maxine and her husband. He is now walking more and more often with a cane which is quite understandable since he is getting nearer to 90 every year.
I crossed the street to talk with them after the parade passed by, but by the time I arrived, he was already heading indoors again. A man who used to live next to Maxine came home after 40 years to watch the parade. He was there before I was. He and Maxine reminisced about the early days in the 50s when he played with her sons.
After the old neighbor left, Maxine turned to me. “Hugh (her husband) left kind of fast,” I said. She replied, ” It gets harder for him every year. He’s probably inside with a glass of wine.” I asked her what she meant.
It turns out that the Fourth, Memorial Day, and Veterans’ Day are all days that send Hugh back in time to memories of friends lost during WW II. He was a navigator in the Army Air Corps during that time. He starts to think about the men who would go out on missions and not come back.
Maxine said that during that time of war nothing was ever said to any of the men in camp about the missing men. They were there one day and never mentioned again the next. “The men just sucked it up and kept on going.” As a result, all these years since the end of the war, Hugh has been sucking it up and never really openly grieved about the loss of any of his friends.
He led a successful life, retired from a successful job, and raised two very successful sons who married and are raising their own children who have no inkling what it is like to lose someone and never again mention their names.
Every patriotic holiday for Hugh now brings back these memories. He can’t help it. They come unbidden. As hard as he tries, he cannot enjoy the days set aside to commemorate his war buddies. He still stands and salutes when the flag passes by but he is not alone. His friends are with him every year and the friendship bonds they share call to him more every year.
Hugh spends time with his wine and the friends gradually go away. These are friends who flew away with the bombers at the beginning of a raid and never returned. There were no bodies to bury. But that didn’t mean they disappeared. You cannot dismiss someone with whom you were very close that easily. Not talking about them does not mean you can or even should try to force them from your memories as soldiers were often asked to do.
I have no idea if the practice of just moving on is still prevalent in today’s wars. I hope not. In Hugh’s case, probably just hearing the name of his friends and being allowed a moment of silent meditation might have gone a long way in healing the wounds that occurred during his time of war. It would have at the least, acknowledged that these men once walked the earth and meant something to somebody. That might have helped.
Maxine says that Hugh enjoys the parade. He hasn’t missed any for many years. But, year after year, his friends come to watch it with him and for awhile he slips away quietly after the parade to spend some time with his buddies.
Namaste. Attic Annie