Grand(maw) marshal


It rained on my grandmother’s parade.

“Story of my life,” she said as we huddled under the church awning Saturday afternoon, watching the rain thin the already light crowd.

River Day isn’t like it used to be. I have these (probably embellished) memories of huge crowds of people in sweatshirts and jackets (they used to have it in October when it was cooler) set against a backdrop of autumn leaves and damp blacktopped streets, milling around, buying stuff, catching up with neighbors, listening to music, really putting to use the concept of fellowship. It was a Big Deal.

This year we got downtown at around noon, found a really good parking space (back in the day you had to park several blocks away from Main Street and hoof it), and sloshed through the mud and grass toward the crowd. There were a lot of bikers there (the Piston Pushers? never heard of ’em) and maybe a hundred other people, huddled under the big tents, eating pulled pork sandwiches and ice cream from the van creeping around nearby. We made the rounds and I saw faces I hadn’t seen in years and years. Faces made gaunt by time and sorrow. Faces I no longer could attach names to. Faces that looked at me with that same sort of vague recognition. Faces that lit up when they saw my grandmother. Faces with big toothy grins. Faces that smelled like whiskey and beer.

I could tell with each minute that passed that Grandmaw was getting more and more antsy about the parade and whether they’d actually still have it. It was supposed to be her day. How many people get to be grand marshals of parades? Parades during festivals that they helped create decades ago? The sky cracked open and the downpour chased everyone out of the open and into tents and under overhangs.

Grandmaw put her hood up and trudged through the slick grass to find out what was going to happen to the parade. We could tell by the look on her face when she returned to the church awning that the news wasn’t good. She struck out again to get a barbecue sandwich while we just sat, killing time, waiting for the rain to pass. Fifteen minutes before the parade was scheduled to step off, the sun was shining. I was a little incredulous. “Why can’t they still have it? It’s not raining now!”

Someone made the call to let the grand marshal and the horses ride in front of the crowd, which had begun to spread out a little after the rain let up. Grandmaw got in her car (I honestly thought it was going to be a fancy new convertible from one of the Savannah car lots, but it was a 1917 Ford) and rode past the emcee stage and the crowd. My family (sans my parents, who were in Chattanooga for the weekend) hooted and hollered and took pictures like a bunch of paparazzi. My cousin ran up to the car to give Grandmaw flowers. She started crying. I think she was embarrassed at suddenly being the center of attention.

I was disappointed for her. How often in our lives do we spend time focusing on how great this one thing — our moment — is going to be and how flawlessly the events will unfold, making a pearl of a memory, and it actually ends up being awkward and weird and kind of a letdown? I just wanted to clear the sky, bring out the sun, bring people out of their houses, line up a proper parade complete with the marching band’s cadence in the distance and the approaching wail of sirens and clatter of hard candy hitting the sidewalk, and do it up right. Grandmaw deserved a moment in the spotlight that wasn’t contrived or carved out of pity or obligation (“Let’s just let her ride in front of the stage and be done with it”).

Important moments don’t always work out that way, I know. I’m just tired of learning that lesson over and over.

We love you, Maggie.

2 thoughts on “Grand(maw) marshal

  1. I stumbled across your blog and found this post, which speaks a sad–yet universal–truth. Keep writing.

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