I just watched a Memorial Day ceremony at the monument along the river across from the Yardley Inn. Each year a small group gathers with flowers and flags. There is a brief speech, a military gun salute and the playing of taps. Watching it made me reflect on my own Memorial Days past.
Growing up in Bristol for years I marched in the Memorial Day parade. The parade started at Green Lane, down Pond Street to the cemetery on Route 13. The route and the parade itself was long. Troop 73 wasn’t the only youth group. My sisters, Cissi, Vicky and Marylee marched with the Juniorettes. There was a contingent of veterans, the high school band, military trucks, soldiers, fire company trucks and rescue squad equipment. And the Bracken Cadets, an excellent marching band sponsored by the American Legion. In the beginning and the end were police cars.
I’m sure there were speeches at the cemetery although I don’t remember them. Along the route, lined with residents and kids waving flags, there were women collecting donations for veteran organizations in return the donor got a paper red poppy. There were lots of flags in the parade and all over town After the ceremony we marched back to the American Legion Mill Street to Radcliffe Street. Kids were given hot dogs, soda and ice cream. Then we headed home.
Memory fails again when I try to remember the rest of the day. I suspect some years we had a picnic at my Aunt and Uncle’s house on Radcliffe Street. Most holidays we got together with them. My cousin Ellen remembers her father pulling a large galvanized tin bucket out of the garage, filling it with ice for soda and probably some beer. Uncle always drank small green bottled Rolling Rock. If we didn’t go to Mignoni’s, we probably had hamburgers and hot dogs or even Delmonico steaks on our second floor porch and outdoor deck. Father had a small charcoal grill that he would fire up.
Memorial Days just before, during and just after college are a blank. I think it’s related to the role of tradition. When we do something ritually it becomes a memory. The years we lived in New Hope with the Pagliones are a similar blank. I don’t recall any New Hope or Lambertville parade. No traditions; no memory. Then we moved to Yardley in the early 1970s.
The Yardley parade became a tradition for decades. The participants were similar to those the the Bristol parade. It was a bit smaller. I have strong memories of the marching veterans, some year after year. I remember a few names, Danny, Estelle (she road in a car). There were a lot of fire trucks from surrounding municipalities. We’d walk to Main Street with out neighbors, the Dyes. Blond Katie and our red headed Jenny shared a stroller in the early years. Political figures, frequently riding in cars, threw candy to the children sitting on the curbs. The parade started on North Main and ended at the American Legion on South Main. There were speeches, a gun salute and taps but with the kids we didn’t walk that far but headed home once the parade passed.
For eight years in the 1980s I was on Yardley Borough Council. And Council marched in the parade. Some years we rode in a car or truck but other years made the decision to walk. I never got into the candy throw. Those years I did make it to the American Legion. In addition to local politicians from the Borough, there were Lower Makefield supervisors, county officials and probably a state representative. There was always a guest military officer that gave the main address. Diane and Jenny didn’t usually make the walk, so I headed home back down Main Street. I recall a few years getting a ride from Dave Heckler, a County-State politician. I’m sure in the afternoon we had a picnic. With the Dyes when they lived locally; alone after they moved.
Some years we skipped Yardley for a trip to visit my sister Vicky and her husband Ted in Darien, CN. My parents, other sisters and children all went for the weekend. The pool was opened although usually too chilly for the adults; the kids didn’t mind. One night we enjoyed a seafood dinner, lobster, clams, oh so good. On Memorial Day we drove to downtown Darien for the parade. A few years we walked to Rowayton, a village in Norwalk. The small parade there had kids participating on decorated bicycles. Very small town. These years were particularly nice since frequently the entire family got together. Years later driving to or from New England past Darien I’d remember those weekends. Family traditions.
In more recent years I have walked over the Mary Yardley footbridge to Main Street and watched the Yardley parade. Barbecue at home. Some years Vicky and Ted hosted the family at their house in Phoenixville. Although their was a town parade we never went but were satisfied socializing and eating in their porch. Our third choice has been to go to Gladwyne and see our grandkids, Eli and Viv decorate their bikes and ride in the local parade. The Gladwyne parade is very small. No bands. Marching veterans, a few politicians throwing candy, fire trucks, and some antique cars, and all those kids on decorated bikes. There are a few speeches downtown where people congregate, socialize, there is some food and drinks for sale. Again very small town. After the parade and hanging out for a while we head home. Always the deck grill.
There are traditional Memorial Day activities and images. For many it’s the beginning of summer. The first big weekend at the beach. Of course this year there is concern about crowds, social distancing, masks and the spread of Coronavirus. And businesses, some with restrictions, are concerned about sales. There are no parades but I suspect many communities displayed flags and had small ceremonies in cemeteries or at monuments like the one in Yardley. Immediate family, maybe friends gather for a picnic.
I’ll be home this Memorial Day. We saw our Jenny, Rob and the grand kids yesterday. It’s overcast so we may or may not cook on the grill. But I pause and give thanks to those who lost their lives in defense of our country. For that’s the main purpose of the day. I’ll call some family members. And I’ll remember the memories and traditions from all those Memorial Days from my past.