Every Memorial Day, I would be woken up by gunfire. The Honor Guard would stand at the end of Main Street in Sag Harbor Village and signal the start of the annual parade with a five-gun salute.
While I appreciated the marching bands and Girl Scouts and local political officials and volunteer firemen in their trucks, it was always the antique car with the World War II veterans that I looked forward to most. When my father was alive, we would bring his wheelchair outside to the curb and watch as he would salute his fellow soldiers. They would always salute back. I would anxiously await to see how many passengers that particular honorary car would carry, knowing each year those precious numbers would dwindle. To not have the parade with the cheering crowds for the first time this year felt like a pause in a tradition that might have been one of their last.
While the sun is out and my geraniums have been planted, hot dogs procured for the grill, Montauk Wave Chaser chilling, the momentary sense of normalcy is fleeting. My usual refrain in terms of guests, “the more, the merrier,” is now “sorry, social distancing.” When I pass by the American Hotel, I see ghosts of Memorial Day past where I would sit on the porch with Janet O’Brien for our annual ladies’ luncheon and greet passersby with hugs and kisses.
I valued this metaphorical checkered flag that the season was off and running.
It was the promise of new life and energy and much needed income and halleluiah . . . men. The beaches would be filled with people enjoying our prize and glory and we would share picnics and play Kadima and greet each other’s dogs. Remember when you could say hello and pet someone’s dog?
Instead of looking at people with smiles and anticipation, now we look at each other with fear. You cannot see someone’s facial expression behind their mask, and we miss all the emotional cues. The air is filled with judgment. The individual anxiety is heightened by the collective anxiety. We are at a time where “We are all in it together,” is more “We are all in it apart.” There is of course the health crisis and the heartbreak of losing loved ones. And there is also the grief of losing a job, income, career, livelihood without any good options. That lifeline which is normally thrown this time of year to much of our community has been cut.
A Hamptons summer season is filled with fundraisers for charitable and cultural institutions, live music, fine and casual dining, yoga and Pilates and barre classes, dinner parties, boat charters, salons, spas, and shopping. While this experience is non-essential, it is essential to the people who make the bulk of their living in the summer season. It is not just missing the past but the dream of the future which is at stake.
As we face a health crisis and a financial crisis, can we be less us and them and more in it together so that we can all again one day watch that wonderful Memorial Day parade?