Over the 4th of July holiday, I did something totally unexpected … something I haven’t done in decades. I attended a 4th of July parade. I took one of my grandsons in hopes of exposing him to an exciting age-old tradition that’s been part of our American culture forever. I thought it would be a real education. And it was. For me.
This parade was supposed to be a major event as it was held downtown in our Capital City, just a few miles from a major Big Ten University, in a long-time home of General Motors. One might assume that the combination of those three elements would result in a well-produced, highly attended spectacle! One should never assume—for all the obvious reasons.
Lesson #1 …
Parades have gone the way of the circus, magicians, and clowns. No more mystery, no more allure, no more excitement! There are far too many other things to distract us today and far too much technology to compete with a costumed character on a unicycle or a high school marching band. Parades have become a political stage for hopeful candidates to ride in fancy cars while handing out fliers. The once colorful, disciplined, enthusiastic marching band has been relegated to 15 senior citizens riding on the back of a flatbed truck trying to stay on key. No animated floats, no costumed characters mingling with the children in the crowd, and no striking military units proudly marching behind the flag of our country as they are cheered and respected by the crowd.
Lesson #2 …
Some things change … some never will. As a group of eight obviously senior war veterans marched by hoisting a single, very large American Flag, a scratchy recording of the National Anthem blasted over the loudspeakers lining the parade route. My grandson had been sitting on the curb taking in the lack of action at that point. When the music started, he immediately stood up, removed his baseball hat, and put his hand on his heart. He stood proud and sang along with the words of the recording. He knew them. He knew them!
The profound enormity of that moment brought a tear to my eye, produced a lump in my throat, and caused my heart to swell with pride. This very special moment easily made the entire day worthwhile. At the end of the recording, my grandson replaced his baseball cap, put his hand in mind, and stood there watching a group of approaching karate students jumping all over the street.
Three or four minutes passed, and he turned to me and asked, “Grandpa, why did so many of the kids on both sides of the street not stand up for the National Anthem?” Very few removed their hats, and you had to strain to find anyone with their hand on their hearts. I was so proud of his question and even more proud of his observation. At that point, I asked him if he was ready to leave and he said, “Sure.” It was obvious that he had once again tolerated another of “Grandpa’s feeble attempts to return to the thrilling days of yesteryear.” He’s used to them by now and never complains.
As we walked back to the car, I explained that so many other kids had not been taught the importance of our flag, our military, and the National Anthem. His parents loved him enough to share that respect from an early age. I told him how proud I was of how he responded and how I hoped he would always do so and teach his children to do the same. He responded simply, “I will!” I know he meant it. I know he will.
We survived the parade fiasco and spent the rest of the day at a giant pet store, bought some delicious peanuts and licorice at the Peanut Castle and walked the boardwalk along the river front discussing the many mysteries of life. Oh, to be 10 years again!
I made a mental note to hug his Mom and Dad when I took him home!