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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Loosed From Our Moorings


I like where I live, but it's an odd place. It has a "village," a portion downtown of mostly small cottages on urban sized plots, crowded in a rabbit warren of little streets hard by the ocean. But the appellation "village" usually connotes a kind of familial and bustling streetscene. Marion is like a mausoleum most of the time. We used to take our older child, when he was but small, to the playground on Saturday, and he'd literally be all by himself. No one would even walk by. We began to go to the neighboring towns to find some people outside.

There are institutions in town where the activity seems to be. There is a tony private high school- Tabor Academy; an exclusive yacht club - Beverley Yacht Club; and a very exclusive golf course - The Kittansett Country Club. There's a tennis club that looks like it belongs in British Colonial India.

In case you haven't figured it out by now, I'm not going to be joining the Beverley Yacht club or playing golf at Kittansett anytime soon. And I doubt either of my children will attend a high school that costs about the same in tuition as an Ivy League university. And I'm not really sure I'd join, even if they'd have me and I had money to burn. I don't want to start calling my wife "Lovie" and wear green pants with whales on them, is all. It's nothing personal.

These institutions and others are sort of revered around here, but they add little to the everyday life of the town. They are insular and private and are cordoned off from the rest of the population by money and walls and the money pit the ocean presents to the would-be sailor. Money doesn't fill a playground.

It is because of this built-in distance from many of my neighbors, and the real distance my home, way out in the boonies, presents, that I crave the activities that happen from time to time that involve the general population of the town. Our older boy plays baseball with his brethren, our toddler goes to story time at the library. We used to revel in the magnificent fireworks display yearly at the town beach on Fourth of July, but the insular folks killed that because it grew too popular,and attracted people, well, people like me and my family, except they were from the surrounding towns. The folks in Marion that don't like strangers kiboshed the proceedings rather than allow outsiders to enjoy it along with us. There was a representative letter to the editor in the local weekly newspaper replete with references to those sorts of people and undesirables and things of that nature that was a classic of the form. Being only recently freed from the ranks of the great unwashed, I found the the whole attitude repellant.

But nobody's asking me. A town gets its vibe going almost without cognition; it just sort of coalesces around institutions and people and weather and all the other isalnds of interest in the ocean of humanity without thinking. You can propose; humanity disposes.

And so I was gratified to go to the center of town, and watch my son march in the Memorial Day parade, and play The National Emblem in front of the reviewing stand at the town hall, and help us to honor the people who fought-- like my father and grandfather, and some -- like my uncle Bobby -- who died, in the military service of their country.

The parade was a zoo; a wonderful kind of rabble coursing down the three main streets in the little downtown. Doughy veterans marching smartly in a little claque, then an enormous amorphous throng of instrument wielding gradeschoolers, all cheered on by as big a crowd of people as the downtown ever sees --a few hundred people.

The first speaker was a local man, active in veterans associations, and a terrible and wonderful public speaker. His innate good sense and humility was revealed by his inability to speak to the crowd without stumbling over each word. I thought he was marvelous, a testament to the really dignified and self-effacing nature of the citizen soldier of the United States. His friend read the roll of the veterans from the town that had died since the last Memorial day tribute, and I was really jarred by how many names there were; they far outnumbered the persons present in uniform for the fete, and reminded my that my own father is becoming a rarer bird each day: a living reminder of World War Two.

There was another man in an officer's uniform; younger, a bit, than the other veterans, and a member of the town government in some capacity --I didn't catch his name. He was introduced in a perfunctory manner, and he launched into a rather lengthy droning speech. He spoke like someone who was used to speaking in places where the audience could not escape. It was as if he was talking at us, not to us. And he went on, for quite a bit, about pacifists. Wonderful antiwar people. Conscientous objectors. Quakers. Just plain uncooperative cranks, too, by the sounds of it. He directed us to graveyards where we could find those pacifists, some buried as long as 225 years, and asked us to honor them on Memorial Day.

He seemed really taken with the idea.

No one so much as murmured about the fellow's remarks. No one really showed any enthusiasm for them, either. I'm not sure if he got any applause at the end of his stemwinder; I had since taken my little son across the street to the park, where he played amongst the magnificent rhododendrons, and stopped to run his little unknowing finger over the brass runes on a plaque set in the ground amongst the greenery. It reads:

Judge us not by our words, but by our works.

Good advice, that; I'll try.

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