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Words

Words. They can be strung together, beads and gems, to express something with texture and sparkle. Entirely frivolous or deeply significant. Sometimes I can capture a moment or sense of spirit, maybe heart beats on paper, and a story unfolds.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

I Love A Parade!


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My grandmother, Vivian, grew up in a Jewish orphanage, sent there with her sisters by their father after the sudden death of their mother. This, my great-grandfather assessed, was the best he could do for his female brood. The women in charge would do better for his girls than he could, he thought. He was a struggling tailor in San Francisco nearing the end of the first decade of the 1900s.

My grandmother didn’t like to talk about her time in the orphanage. The youngest of the three girls she was left behind when the others married early to escape the institution. She made a couple of intermediate stops but by the 1930s she landed in Redwood City, CA, then a small town on the Peninsula, south of the City. A place that boasted “Climate Best by Government Test” as well as the largest, oldest Independence Day parade in the state of California.

I have no actual evidence that either of these two statements is true but I’ve never heard anything different so I’ve just gone with it. I grew up in Redwood City and never missed one of those parades. Each year my dad took us to city center so we could see the marching bands, baton twirlers, mounted regiments, floats, veterans, scouts, and color guards strut the streets proudly as we wriggled through the crowds for a better view. And as long my grandmother lived, we stopped at her place to give her ride along with us.

She was an old-fashioned patriot. She could be moved to tears at the playing of the national anthem. For one who saw much pain in her early life she told me many times her saddest days occurred when she heard news of the murders of John and Robert Kennedy. I saw her cry with grief, outrage, and defeat when Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. Heinous acts were committed against patriots, the victims heroes who died for their country. She considered these the darkest days of the nation because they were attacks from within.

Each time the flag would pass our outpost on Middlefield Road, or Main Street, on July 4th, my grandmother would stand, remove her hat, and put her hand over her heart. For every bar of the Star Spangled Banner she would rise and stay put, posture erect, until each note had rung through the crowd.
Color guard
Not to make light, but you can imagine how many times flags passed and the anthem played on July 4th at the state’s largest parade. My grandmother was a veritable jumping bean. I was amazed at the reflex action that snapped her into position without hesitation, never a haw, from start to finish. My dad – her son, and my brothers and I followed her lead. Without question. Because it was proper. For with her on that day, we were patriots, too, thanking men and women everywhere and through the years, for the gift of freedom. Acknowledging our flag, and “the nation for which it stands”.

No doubt this woman, daughter of Russian Jewish émigré, born the year after the great quake and fire of ’06, raised in an orphanage, having survived two world wars and the Great Depression, understood better than I ever will the depth of raw courage and decency, resilience and stalwart devotion to freedom symbolized by Independence Day parades across our land. In cities, townships and villages. On floats and in wagons. Fancy and not.

She didn’t live long enough to meet my son. If she had, she would have seen us walk from our house to Redwood City's downtown each 4th of July. She would have witnessed him marching as a Boy Scout, or gliding along sidelines on skates, selling flags to bystanders. The fourth generation participating in the state’s largest and oldest parade.

What I now see is, of course, this is a family event. A historical trek we make because -– it’s what we do. But as we’re renewing our ties to family and tradition, we’re also renewing them to community, city, and country. In the generational repetition the lines have blurred between personal and national history. They’re now intertwined.

So the little girl from the orphanage created the family she longed for and the tethers she craved. And each time the flag passes before us in Redwood City, CA, where climate is best by government test, we will stand as though there is no other possibility, as we will when we hear the national anthem. Many times, at the state’s largest and oldest parade.

What are your family traditions? Stories? Menus? Rituals? Just please don’t tell me your parade is larger, or your weather better. You know it’d break my heart.

Enjoy your holiday weekend. Be safe. And remember to give a nod to those who have helped to make our lives and our country so very hospitable.

Happy Independence Day, everyone! Let freedom ring...

2 comments:

  1. Nice story! I feel guilty now, though. Every year we go to Ashland, OR for 4th of July. The town puts on what may be the oldest and biggest parade for that state. I quit going years ago because I stopped noticing any meaning to it that your grandmother would recognize. It might still be there but all I see and hear are loud school bands and commercial entrants under a hot, hot sun.

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  2. Maybe you're meant to go give it another look-see! But don't tell me it's bigger than Redwood City's parade...

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