30 May 2005

Ah, Memorial Day

For the six Memorial Days between 1986 and 1991, I wished for hard morning rains, but they never came. There were some overcast years, some sprinkles, but no escape from the parade. All I wanted was to sleep in, but instead by 9:30 I was gathering with my bandmates next to the town's firetrucks. Marching band wasn't in any way special or prestigious at my school; since the whole band was fairly small, it was just something we all had to participate in whether we wanted to or not.

In early May, we started holding our weekly full band rehearsals outside in the parking lot so we could practice walking in formation. Dress right, dress forward: which is to say keep in line with the person all the way to your right, and keep in line with the person in front of you. Though the number of rows could vary from year to year depending on how many people were in the band, I always held the right-most position for the saxophones (a small honor as I set the spacing between my row and the row ahead).

To give our marching group a bit more heft, it included band members from 7th through 12th grades. A couple of 6th graders would get the "honor" of carrying the banner in front. For drum major, a few factors weighed in to the choice: would his or her instrument be missed from the group? did he or she want to do it? and most importantly, could he or she fit into the small white uniform with gold trim?

The rest of us wore maroon suits with gold stripes down the sides of the pants, a white overlay with a stiff uncomfortable collar, and the stupid tall fuzzy hats. Unfortunately, the uniforms were bought when the band still marched for a Halloween parade, so they were made of heavy wool. For certain portions of the parade (it was actually 2 small parades), the band had to stand in the full sun while several speeches were made, the poem "In Flanders Fields" was read by a pretty, attention-hungry girl from the band, and "Taps" was played and then played again in the distance for an echo effect. Here we'd lose one to three people to heat exhaustion despite my Mom's efforts.

Of her own volition, she brought water and passed the bottles through the ranks during the speeches. They were the original (now old) style green Gatorade bottles with the long straw coming out of the top. Eventually we convinced our band director to let us take off the helmets during the speeches, and still we were all dripping with sweat.

The parade started in one town cemetery and ended in the other. There we dispersed, stripping off sweaty layers, packing up instruments, and walking to the VFW for free sodas. Then I'd go home, rinse off, and change clothes before heading to the annual picnic at our band director's house. Getting up for the parade may not have been what I wanted to do at the time, but it's certainly memorable.

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