They Gathered

We gathered along Main Street. The Carsons were there, the Smiths, and my neighbors Elli and Frank Greco. My kids and their kids were there, too, and my mom and dad, although they were both pretty old to be standing on Main Street waiting for a parade. “I wouldn’t miss it!” my mom told me when I suggested she stay behind. “I can send you pictures from my iPhone,” I promised. “Not on your life,” my dad piped in. So, they were here along with everyone else. I brought chairs, so we’d be comfortable.

We’d heard about this event for weeks on end from our town’s Facebook Page, but there were no exact details. It was just an invitation.


Come to Main Street for the biggest parade in our town’s history.

Saturday, July 4, 2024

At 1:00 PM


This was our kick-off event for the first Independence Day after the pandemic hit the country. It was 2024, and we were finally free of the cursed virus that had killed off almost half of our town. We had visions of floats and marching bands and clowns and the high school twirlers. This was the most important social event in our town in over four years, and we were ready for the celebration. “Bring on the parade!” the crowd chanted.

We’d begun gathering at noon, thinking we’d need to jockey for an excellent place to settle, but truthfully, though I’d seen almost everyone I knew, this was not such a big group. The Foresters weren’t here. They’d all died in 2022. The Josephs and Johnsons and Davidsons had all lost people too. There were more kids than adults, and they seemed attached to new families. I felt tears just streaming down my face as I realized this. The people around me must have noticed, too, because there was more crying than cheering.

By 12:45 pm, just about everyone was there on the sidewalks of our little town. The Volunteer Firemen, in their uniforms, were mingling with us. “Why weren’t they in the parade?” I wondered. The police chief and his deputy were there to keep order, though we didn’t need them. We were a subdued group. I saw that Michelle’s Bakery had brought out some cookies, coffee urns, and cupcakes. And The Family Diner had a table with watermelon, soda, and snacks. I was happy these businesses had survived. No one was eating, though. We all kept looking down Main Street, hoping for some sign of the parade.

Waiting was getting to everyone. When was it going to begin? “This is one hell of a parade,” the fire chief said. “Watch your mouth, Dave,” scolded Fran, his wife. I hadn’t seen many of these people without a mask in years. This virus had forced us to distrust everyone. Even the mailman and the UPS delivery people were suspects. They warned us that the virus lived on every surface, was in the air we breathed, and we knew it killed.

So many people had died. We lost older adults first; then we lost doctors, nurses, and people with diseases. Then, most horribly, we lost our children. We had lived through four years in terror for ourselves and our families, and now those in charge declared that it was once again safe to come out of our homes and live our lives. Could we believe them? We wanted to believe, but it had taken two months of reassurance to get us out on Main Street.

My family had come with masks, as had everyone else. We were afraid to expose ourselves, but the masks slowly came off. We shoved them into pockets. We were seeing our friends for the first time, almost naked without them, looking white-faced from lack of sunshine, our hair chopped short from the home cuts, and most of us over 40 gone gray-white. We looked different — old. But we survived.

We clustered in tight little groups of four or five and were hesitant about crossing over to one another, still suspicious about who might be contagious. This was, as our fire chief had said, one hell of a quiet parade.

Then I noticed Ed Marcus, my old fishing buddy. Hell, Ed and I went way back to junior high school. We’d been in the same grade and then gone to High School together. We’d played basketball on senior varsity, and then after coming back from college we took up fishing. Once a month, for years, we’d gone out to the river on the last Saturday morning of the month to fish and catch up. We always enjoyed those mornings, sitting back without our families, just men together. But that had ended in 2020.

Ed noticed me at the exact moment I saw him, and then, kind of like in a dream, we both got up and crossed to the middle of the street. I am not a crying man, but I was crying, and so was Ed. We stopped and just looked into each other’s eyes, and then we were hugging and thumping one another on the back. God, I had missed this man!

We both turned then and saw that we weren’t alone. Men and women were hugging all the way down the street. My wife Janette was hugging Sue, her best friend since kindergarten; They’d been having coffee together with a group of friends on Zoom every Thursday morning since this all began. It always excited Janette by these get-togethers, but complained that she missed touching her friends. Women are touchers! I thought then about how long it had been since Janette and I had made love. It had been months. Not because we stopped loving one another or caring, but because we were just drained, tired, too tired to make an effort for one another. Judging by the lack of babies on the street, I’d bet that we weren’t alone in this. All that sex energy had just slipped away. As I gazed at my wife standing there, looking so beautiful, I felt that old desire. I wanted her. Then, as if by magic, Janette looked at me and as our eyes met, the longing was there, and I knew tonight we would be together again.

I noticed that most kids had wandered away from their parents and found one another. My son was so excited about this event that we could barely contain him at home. He just turned thirteen in June and missed so much over the past four years. You can do a lot on zoom, but you can’t play soccer or basketball, and like me, he loves sports. Immediately he found his pals, and they were kicking a ball around, screaming for all it was worth at the very freedom to play again. They looked great. They looked like kids. They’d survived. Kids do.

My daughter Angie still sat on the curb where we left her, alone. Angie just turned six last month and would be going into 1st grade when the school opened again in September. She’s a smart kid, and we had helped her with her school work, so she could read and write and do some math. She’d be fine when school opened. Angie had only been in nursery school when this all started and didn’t know anyone her age except for the zoom kids. Flesh and blood people, three-dimensional people, were almost foreign to her. I couldn’t imagine what she was thinking. I wanted to make this better and was walking towards her when I noticed Miss Betty, the kindergarten teacher, leading another little girl up to Angie. They looked up at Miss Betty as though she couldn’t possibly be real. And then they looked at one another, smiling, shy, and I just knew they’d be best friends in first grade. I almost squeezed Miss Betty for making this bit of magic happen.

“Around now,” I thought, “this is an excellent time for a parade, if a parade is going to happen.”

My friend Ed and I must have thought this at that exact moment. “We are the parade!“ we shouted. And then, as if by telepathy, people began gathering their families and friends together towards the center of the street. “Let’s do this,” someone shouted, and so the parade finally started as we began marching up Main Street.

Ed, who has a great voice, started the first bars of the National Anthem, and as we all turned to look at him, we joined in, our voices mingling in the song that meant so much to all of us,

This was one of those magical moments that most of us would probably never forget; I know I never will. Our police chief, as though on cue, hoisted the American Flag over the street, and as we marched under it, our voices grew stronger, and we took back our lives.


BIO:

I have avoided writing because of my problems with spelling. As a dyslexic, I find spelling challenging, and until spell check my writing was embarrassing. As a teacher, I trained my classes to help find mistakes on the board. It became a game! Becoming a writer has been an uphill battle. Then, something amazing happened. I began to write with my kids and found my voice. My stories resonated with people. That was 50 years ago. I now have journals lining a shelf of my closet and files of fiction and memoir on my computer. I’m a writer.




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