Saucy Swallows

Fri, 05/27/2022 - 1:00pm

Today, I have no words.
A little over 23 years ago I was at a friend’s house. We told each other we would not watch the memorial service about to be broadcast, live, from Columbine, Colorado, site of a horrific school shooting. There was nothing to be gained, nothing to be changed by our wallowing in the grief that seemed to be engulfing a nation.
We watched and we wept.
Then it happened again, and again and again, at schools, primarily, but at houses of worship, at theaters, at shopping malls and supermarkets, everywhere. Ten years ago this coming December it was closer to home, Sandy Hook, in Newtown, Connecticut. My oldest cousin was literally on his deathbed up in Massachusetts. When I got the call that he had passed I asked his daughter if they had told him about the tragic shooting. He had always wanted to know everything that was going on in the world but she said they had decided, no, he would be gone soon enough, there was no need to deepen the darkness of his last days. Here, everyone knew, or knew of, someone connected to Sandy Hook.
Now, there has been another shooting, another terrible massacre, in Uvalde, Texas and I think of Mary who for so many years stood up at the Thanksgiving concert to remember those departed and always to ask us all to pray for peace, for an end to violence.
Then, an NRA convention, a three-day event, was scaled back to a single day, in Denver. Now, the upcoming NRA meeting is still set for Houston although speakers seem to be discovering heretofore unnoticed “conflicts.”
Maybe the NRA will make an executive decision and proclaim to the world it is going back to its roots, before it entered the realm of political advocacy and its coffers swelled to bloating, maybe it will declare they are going to be about education and more responsible gun ownership.
Today, I have no words.
I think to go out and look for the swallows but hear them, first, back inside, chasing each other from room to room, from door top to curtain rod to still-closed windows.
Later, they are out there on the gate wire, they or some of their cohorts, there are more than two around here, looking all innocent and demure. If I get closer they will flit off so I try to zoom and for my efforts end up with a photo that appears to be more dove than swallow.
The lilacs down the lane are fading. This is the most beautiful time of the year, and it is so short-lived.
It is almost Memorial Day, time for there to be new flags on veterans’ graves in the cemeteries, the still-green grass neatly trimmed, flowers planted.
The world, it seems every week, is a very different place than it was when I was growing up. We had “exercises” at the end of May, usually hot, and outside, and on November 11. They were half days, each dedicated to what was less a holiday and more a remembrance.
By spring of first grade we were moving from printing to cursive handwriting, and we were expected to copy in a little blue book the poem we were to recite. We had those little lined paper books through the lower grades, until we moved to the other side of the building and junior and senior high. I was quite surprised to see them again in college.
There were three grades in a room and the primary teacher was also the music teacher so the piano “lived” with us and we were set to some task when the big kids came to sing, to practice for these programs and Christmas and graduation. Singing was the fallback, our playlist a repertoire of patriotic pieces, the songs of the branches of the armed services (Tripoli is where!?), the classic “America,” others I grew up presuming everyone knew, “Columbia the Gem of the Ocean,” and all the verses of the National Anthem which I was quite sure, even in first grade, many had never heard.
It was the fifties, and while Block Island had yet to experience post-war prosperity in other ways we were like so many small, rural places. The dads had served in World War II, a couple in Korea, when we went to Legion Park for Memorial Day we could find their names on the plaque on the big stone.
It was not there to memorialize only those who had died, a very, very few, but all who had served. Our world was small and that it was unusual to have such a complete roll never crossed my mind, or that our world was so insular through World War II that I never heard any stories of argument about who was and who wasn’t from here. Most of all, in a time when no one had any money they managed to have this a metal plaque cast and affixed to a granite marker.
The Coast Guard Station was still manned and they sent a color guard over to Legion Park. There was a white podium that was carted around, it might be in the school, on the lawn, across the island at the Legion Park, and a piano, lugging around a piano didn’t seem to pose any difficulty at all.
We recited the little poems we had painstakingly copied into our little books in our shaky first time real writing and we sang the songs we had “learned by heart.” People got dressed up and came to participate, the ladies in dresses, the men in suits, many with their Legion hats.
Then the state decided half a day of school didn’t count, Memorial Day became more a holiday than a remembrance and the school-wide, island-wide attendance dwindled. Looking back, I marvel at the amount of history woven into those many rehearsals, those poems and songs.
We may have been aligned briefly with the rest of the country. We’d go to the exercises, come home, my dad would put his Legion hat in its plastic envelope, hang up his suit, and pick up his own avian battle, not with the swallows everyone prized for their bug-devouring prowess but against the blackbirds lurking at the edges of the big garden.