When I was little, Memorial Day was still celebrated on May 31st, not as a long weekend. The best parade in the area was in Newton Junction, which consisted of a school, a few houses, a railroad line, and a small general store. My grandparents lived across from the school. The parade started at four in the afternoon. After school, my aunt piled her three kids into the back of the station wagon, picked up my mom and me, and drove the windy, bumpy, tree lined roads to my grandmother’s house for the parade.
It was a traditional parade. School bands, veterans from several wars, a few floats pulled by old trucks, some dogs and kids on bikes. It marched down the main “street” and the watchers curved into the parade as it passed, so it grew longer every few feet. My cousins and I fell cheerfully into line behind the bands—a stairstep family of four, if anyone was looking. I blended in perfectly; my cousin Steven and I had the same hair, smile, freckles. Twins. The marching band led the way to the cemetery, where things grew more serious.
The cemetery was small, green, a bit overgrown, but spruced up for the ceremony. There must have been a monument or two for World War Two, World War One, and Korea. There must have been flags. The Vietnam War was just about to escalate. Everyone there had sons who had served—my family enlisted in the air force. My uncle was stationed in Japan. The adults all remembered wars. What struck me, then, though, was the silence. The entire town gathered in this small, still, green space, and stood in silence.
Someone spoke a few words. Someone else laid a wreath on the graves, maybe a flag. There was a six gun salute, which scared all of us every year. The sound hurt our ears, reminded us of the violence of war. Then someone played Taps, the clear notes rising through the evening air. Day is Done. This day was done for us, four small kids. The larger day was done for all of the men who had served our country. We knew this.
When the ceremony was over, we all wandered back home for dinner. I suspect we stayed at my grandparent’s house and they chased us outside while they cooked hamburgers and set the table. We ran around, shouting, arguing, slipping across the street to climb on the monkey bars. Life went on—but we remembered, deep down, the silence of the cemetery.