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Over the last few days, there were two kinds of parades in my world: literal and figurative. As I perused the Memorial Day listings in last Thursday’s edition of The River Reporter, I ruminated about my personal journey exploring life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, for Memorial Day not only heralds the “unofficial” beginning of summer but also marks yet another trip around the sun for me. When I was a kid, it was still called “Decoration Day,” (yes, I’m that old) and I thought that the parade and ensuing holiday hoopla was (go figure) all about me. As I grew older, we learned in school the meaning of the special day and gained respect for those who lost their lives in order to ensure our freedom. When I look back, the memories are in black and white, set against a ground of red, white and blue, sometimes tinged with a sepia sadness, because I’m almost (almost) an antique.
“What are we doing for your birthday?” friends began to ask, “Any special plans?” which I answered with a shrug. It’s not that my birthday depresses me (much), but, long ago, I let the need for a literal party slip away, wanting instead to just relax at home for an extra day and take in a parade somewhere along the way. The plethora of choices in the Upper Delaware River region, where patriotism is very much alive and well, always astounds. I chose the Town of Fremont, which, as the second oldest Memorial Day parade in New York State, was celebrating its 135th year. As families lined the streets before the parade began, members of the armed forces gathered around the monument in the town square for a reverential ceremony which included an invocation, benediction, guest speakers, the Sullivan West High School Band, Civil War re-enactors and a flag-folding in honor of Raymond (Ray) Herbert. It’s easy to see that Memorial Day means more than barbeques and brews in our neck of the woods, and as kids and their parents placed hands over hearts, mine swelled a bit too, as we honored the fallen men and women with due respect.
As I looked around, the light dimmed, colors faded and memories flooded my reverie. With more years behind me than ahead, I reflected on the six decades of flag-waving birthdays that I’ve seen and wondered… have I accomplished what I set out to do during the “Ozzie and Harriet meets The Wonder Years” of my youth, or have I stumbled and fallen along my personal parade route? There is no black and white answer, and the gray area in-between is filled with some amazing experiences, good times and bad, a few wrong turns, and a career path that has zigged as much as it had zagged, leaving plenty of room in the curves for surprises along the way. Yes, I’m aware that it ain’t over ‘till Kate Smith sings “God Bless America” (look it up), but there’s no time like the present to start crossing things off the proverbial bucket list. “Hmmm. I’ve already done that,” I said to the dog, while drawing a line through “get a tattoo” and “go camping in Africa,” but I’m pretty sure that it’s the more ephemeral goals that I had in mind. During my acting career in the ‘70s, I starred in a musical called “The Last Sweet Days of Isaac,” about an egomaniacal idealist out to prove something to the world. With middle age in the rearview mirror, I often think of him and one of the songs from that show, written by Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford. “My most important moments go by,” the lyrics lament, “and I don’t even know it till they’re gone. I hear the hurdy-gurdy fading far down the street, and I wonder—did we meet? Did we ever really meet?”
Those words haunt me to this day, still serving to make me stop and think. Here’s hoping that there are a few surprises waiting down the road for all of us and that we may still have a few high notes to hit… but we had better pay attention, IMHO, before the parade passes by.