As pitiful as this might sound, I had no one to do anything with on the 4th of July.
So I got up and got my ‘colors’ on and rode my bike down to the parade. I pulled out of the alley behind my house and went around the corner…
I saw him.
He was cutting the grass. It was hot. He was so thin, with his shirt sticking to him. I passed by close enough to see the sweat dripping off of him. For some reason I thought of tears. I don’t know him. But we know each other. I know he’s a veteran. I know he has PTSD and carries burdens I will never know. I slowed down as much as I could and still keep the bike up right. I waited until he could sense me and he looked up. I yelled “Happy fourth!” to him, smiled, and waited for him to smile back. He did. I was slowly rolling away and yelled ‘thank you’ over the lawn mower’s roar. He smiled again. He always did. His house is often times closed up for days, and what seems like weeks, at a time. He is often not around for me to see. But when we see each other, we smile and wave. I don’t know why, but that makes me feel good.
I rode my bike to the parade. I stood in the sun for about forty minutes waiting for the parade to start. I watched as people began to crowd into the space in front of me, slowly pushing me backwards. It was okay. I purposely had stayed back some because I had my bike and didn’t want to be inconsiderate. And I knew kids would be coming up after me. Kids need to see the parade. The parade started.
I saw him.
He was in his late sixties, maybe even his seventies. He was carrying the flag. We were on the last half of the parade route. His white dress shirt, and the t-shirt he wore underneath it stuck to his body. He was limping slightly. He was part of an honor guard. He and the other uniformed men were veterans. I suspected that he had seen or experienced things much worse than carrying that heavy flag and it’s pole for the length of a parade route. But I felt guilty, standing there, watching him walk in the heat, carrying that flag. But he earned that right.
As he passed I saw across the street a group of people standing when
I saw her.
She must have been in her forties, or older. Long dark hair with some grey streaking through it. She stood at attention, with a sharp and perfect appearing salute. I looked at the flag bearer as he passed. I looked back at her. She stood at attention, with the salute, until he was well past us, then she relaxed and started talking with the people she was with.
I saw another float of veterans head our way. In front of their float, another honor guard. Another veteran carrying the flag. I watched her as she snapped into attention as the flag approached, and stayed there with her salute until it was well past us. But this time, I put my hand over my heart.
I saw him.
A man I have seen hundreds of times over the years, in passing. A county employee who goes around cleaning up after other county employees. He was sitting in a chair of honor on a float for veterans.
I stood at a corner. I was clapping silently with my bike gloved hands as groups of veterans passed. As the high school band passed. As the militia men passed. I clapped silently.
I heard them.
A group on the opposite corner. For every group that was represented, they clapped. They yelled appreciation. Some of the groups showed their appreciation. The veterans waved and yelled ‘thank you’. The kids in the marching band played on without losing their concentration but it felt like they smiled a little when they were cheered.
As grateful as this sounds, I had an entire country to celebrate with on the 4th of July.