It was October. The first Monday. It was damp and cold and my Girl Scout uniform was not nearly warm enough, not even with the matching sweater. My beret was bobby-pinned on or it would have flown off in the wind.
Marching bands stood tuning up and tractors sat idling as the crepe paper streamers on the floats they would pull fluttered in the building breeze. Tiny ballerinas shivered even as their mamas shoved their arms into jackets that would cover their pale pink leotards. Politicians poised on the backs of convertibles, floor room shiny and driven by men in white shirts and ties. Horses whinnied with impatience.
Marching in the fair parade was no small thing in those days and so it didn’t matter that I was freezing, that my eyes were watering. I trembled from both the cold and the anticipation. There was also a little fear that I would falter in the very important task of carrying the flag.
There were no flag holsters in those days, so I would have to carry its entire weight — held against my right hip, right hand over left hand on the staff — the entire mile and a half of the parade route. Past the First Baptist Church and the courthouse and Piggly Wiggly and the library. Past the cheering spectators filling the sidewalks, classmates and family and people who worked in the stores where Mama and I bought shoes and fabric and notions. Past my entire world.
And then a man from the Kiwanis Club was waving us out into the street. I lifted the flag, tucked the staff against my side and joined the parade.
The parade ended in what some of us, after all these years, still call the Roses parking lot. The floats, engineered by people with no knowledge of engineering, were looking a little ragged. The fake columns leaned precariously and the beauty queens (who had naively used those columns to steady themselves as they bounced down Main Street) tottered dangerously on their high heels as they reached for solid ground. The politicians’ broad smiles had worn off completely and the ballerinas were whining.
It is always odd that when I think about the parade (And I have been thinking about it for 50 years.) I don’t remember the parade proper. Except for the vague recollection of my family’s voices calling out to me from somewhere around the old post office, the images that resurface every year about this time are always the before and after.
Like those juxtaposed photos in women’s magazines (or, more accurately these days, on social media), there is no record, no evidence of the period in-between, the moments after the before and before the after. It saddens me.
But should it? Can a 12-year-old know anything about paying attention to the moment? Can a girl on the edge of adolescence know anything about how quickly time passes, how soon now becomes then? Can I, with all the benefit of what we call experience, predetermine what I will remember? Can any of us?
That we remember at all, that somehow our brains enable us to retrieve sights and sounds and smells on demand as well as to be suddenly attacked by them from behind, is nothing short of a miracle, is nothing less than absolute magic.
The parking lot emptied out. My wrists ached from the weight of the flag. When we got home, Mama gave me aspirin and put me to bed.