Monday, June 13, 2011

The Purple Shoes Say it All

We fixed our eyes on the seemingly endless line of blue-gowned graduates marching into the field house, watching for our third and youngest grandchild about to graduate from high school. Finally we spotted her with long dark hair flowing around her beautiful face. Characteristically, she had her mortarboard with the gold tassel perched precariously on the back of her head. Jessica always marches to her own tune, even when “Pomp and Circumstances” is playing.

            Ralph squeezed my hand and said, “She is so beautiful.” I didn’t argue and I’m certain my son sitting to my left was thinking the same, as was his wife Patti, Aunt Chris, and Jess’s collegiate brother, Daniel. Was it just two years ago we proudly watched him graduate with honors from this same school? Were he and the others as lost in their memories of Jessica?

            The uncomfortable bleacher seats and the less than inspirational speech by the well-intentioned superintendant were somewhat compensated for by the nicely presented comments by the senior class officers.  Then we watched the young people file across the stage to receive their diplomas, alphabetically, one by one. As I waited for Jessica and the other Ps—at least two-hundred fifty graduates preceded her—images passed before my eyes.

            On long ago weekends, when the children had a sleepover with Grammy and Papa, Jessi would wake up early and peek in to see if we were awake. Then she jumped in bed and cuddled up next to me, warm and content. Now she loves her own bed and any opportunity to sleep well into the day.

            I can see the sun bleached streaks in her thick hair as she built castles in the Florida sand. Winter turned her bobbed hair a warm brown, matching her dancing eyes. Now fashion dictates long darkened tresses and blue lenses that offer startling contrast with her smooth olive skin.

            Triumph slowed on her face when she managed to climb up to the same high tree branch her brother occupied, just as it did when she showed us how she could ride a two-wheeler. Now she confidently slides into the driver’s seat and heads out on her own.

            Jessica loved being barefoot; she discarded shoes the moment she entered the house and often when she went outdoors. Now we see her approach to receive her diploma  wearing “killer” purple shoes with heels as thin and as long as new pencils.

            The presenters continued through the alphabet until the last six graduates with names beginning with Z marched triumphantly from the stage, posed for their photos, and returned to their seats. The ceremony quickly concluded and we slowly descended from the bleachers, rubbing our tired backs. Now, to find Jessica among the throng and give her our congratulatory hugs. A sweet sadness swept over me. No more little ones to come running to their grandparents, but what pride we feel in the young adults they’ve become.     

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Parade

This morning I found myself in the midst of a Norman Rockwell painting.

      Steve had asked Ralph and me if we intended to come to the Memorial Day parade in Elm Grove, the small neighboring community where our son and his family have lived for over fifteen years. “You can get a draft beer and good ol’ Wisconsin brat in the street party afterward,” he added.

With those incentives, along with the arrival of the first gorgeous summer day of the season, we set out to see this event we had never bothered to attend before. First we hung our American flag off our balcony rail and dressed in the appropriate patriotic colors. As we drove through the newly leafed trees that canopied the roads of this suburban village, we passed groups of parents pushing strollers with energetic children skipping alongside. They looked the goslings trailing the Canadian geese around our pond. “I think the whole town is going to the parade,” I remarked. “Good thing we can park in the kid’s driveway.”

Once on foot, we joined the throngs headed for the main street of the Village. To our pleasure, our grandson caught up with us and told us where his folks were standing long the parade route. “I was determined to get home from college for Memorial Day,” he told us. “I didn’t want to miss the parade.” He stopped several times along the way to greet friends and neighbors. Seemed to us that each group of pretty young girls called out to him.

The sirens and clanging bells of the fire engines signaled the start of the parade. Ladder trucks and emergency vehicles from neighboring suburbs added to the cacophony. Children of all ages, parents, and grandparents lined both sides of the street, many waving flags and applauding as the Legion Posts passed and service men and women rode by in all manner of vehicles. The Village president, a local judge, and Representative Sensenbrenner joined in the hour-long parade. Our daughter-in-law cheered her high school band and our son and grandson cheered even louder when “their” school marched by. Kids scrambled to pick up the candy thrown by those riding in decorated floats and antique cars.

I stood taking it all in. Quintessential Americana: neighbors greeting neighbors, strangers smiling at each other, bright sunshine illuminating the scene. Wars seemed very far away as we marked this day to appreciate those who serve. The beer and brats were anticlimactic.