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Thursday, February 22 Opinion

Woog's World / On Memorial Day, Westporters salute their right to complain

This year's Memorial Day parade came straight out of a Disney movie. The sky was blue. The sun shone. The temperature was perfect. What's not to like?


This was, remember, Memorial Day in Westport. And the official town sport here is complaining. If anyone can find a way to rain on a parade, it's us.

The last float had not even untangled itself from the end-of-parade Myrtle Avenue cluster when the comments and emails began. (The fact that I, a local writer, am seen as the go-to person for every bitch and moan is worth a column. But not this one.)

I'll start with the mild ones. "The crowds were too small." "Where is everyone?" "What happened to all the families that used to stand on the bridge?"

There are a few possible reasons: Newcomers don't know about our Memorial Day tradition; teenagers sleep in; patriotism has gone the way of the telephone land line -- but I suspect the cause is numeric: Everyone is in the parade, so there's no one left to march.

Over the years, our Memorial Day celebration has grown to include every organization in town. Youth sports leagues, Democratic and Republican town committees, the Levitt Pavilion and library, Al's Angels and Suzuki violinists -- you name it, they're in it. And every young kid marching -- all 15,000 of them -- is accompanied by a support team of parents, step-parents and siblings. No wonder tumbleweeds blew down the Post Road sidewalks.

Another mild complaint: "The kids don't wave to the reviewing stand." I don't buy this one. The parade is not about the folks sitting in front of Town Hall. It's about the paraders, not the paradees. If, after reaching the end of the line, Brownies and Little Leaguers and Suzuki violinists don't feel like waving, that's their right. Memorial Day is about honoring the brave men and women who died to keep America free, and one of the key parts of the Bill of Rights -- right next to the right to carry a machine gun into a fast food restaurant or church -- is the right not to wave at the end of a parade.

Some other complaints were a bit odder. One Westporter was concerned that the winning float -- the Y's Men's depiction of D-Day, the momentous battle fought exactly 70 years ago Friday -- featured a soldier lying dead, covered in blood. "There were kids watching this parade!" the complainant actually said.

Well, yeah.

It's Memorial Day. It's a day for thinking about the millions of Americans who fought for our country -- particularly those who never returned. They did not die of old age, in their sleep. What does it say about our society -- particularly the future we will entrust to our children -- that we feel the need to sanitize everything that is less than pristine? Do we really help them by shielding their eyes, or pretending that war is not bloody, grim and tragic? If anything, there should be more floats like the Y's Men's. And we should make sure that all our kids look long and hard at them.

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Because it was easy to overlook the D-Day tableau in the midst of some more commercial aspects of the parade. That brings me to another complaint I heard, from several people at different times: "When did the Memorial Day parade become so commercial?"

They've got a point. It's one thing to have Suzuki violinists. It's another to include the Sweet Frog mascot. Because next year every frozen yogurt place in town will want in, and there just are not enough hours in the day for a parade that long.

And it's a third thing entirely to have hired guns handing out fliers for a women's waxing center. Those young women took their job seriously. They walked up and down, back and forth, foisting their cards on everyone -- many times. As with Sweet Frog, this is a slippery slope. If one waxing center does this, every other one will want to, too. Pretty soon, no one will be able to see the D-Day float, which would be terrible except for the one complainer mentioned.

The biggest complaint -- and one I heard from a substantial number of people -- sounds pretty legit. It will also draw lots of protests: "I never saw so many kids riding in my life."

I had the same reaction. I too wondered why healthy young boys and girls -- representing baseball, softball, lacrosse and soccer teams -- rode in cars and trucks. Back in the day, we talked about "marching" in the parade. Our "march" was more like a meander, but you get the idea. This is a Memorial Day event, not a road rally.

The good news is, I did not see any kids texting or using their cellphones the entire time.

Only parents.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his "Woog's World" appears each Friday. He can be reached at: dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is www.danwoog06880.