, Newburyport, MA

November 16, 2012

Good enough for Norman Rockwell

Bill Plante's
North Shore

---- — As parades go, Monday’s, from the Pond Street side of the Bartlet Mall to Newburyport’s City Hall and finally to the Veterans Cemetery was ... well, Norman Rockwell, the late, great cartoonist of the Saturday Evening Post would have loved it.

Rockwell’s extraordinary gift was to capture the heartwarming essence of the commonplace, and there was much of that in the air when I arrived to the starting area on Pond Street.

I had given up parading long ago, but something — I haven’t a clue what — had brought me to the staging area where I joined a dozen or so other veterans of assorted wars and service branches.

I hadn’t done this for so long I had forgotten about the old military axiom, “Hurry up and wait,’’ or what was offered by way of experience.

There is this about parades: the gathering and the sorting out of what at first appears to be patient disarray of participating parts of the whole will, upon signal, take their places in line as though from long practice.

Meanwhile, we enjoyed a pleasant social preliminary on what was a picture-perfect, mid-autumn morning until the members of the Roaring Thunder motorcycle detachment revved their engines and we took our place behind a drummer beating a marching cadence I took to be 120 steps a minute.

It may have been less, but by the time we had reached the top of Green Street, it felt like considerably more.

I had brought my walking stick and kept it tucked under my left armpit — British military style, so to speak — ready to use for whatever split-second occurrence might require a downhill brake.

Uphill, it helps steady the load.

The parade route was brief: down Green Street to Pleasant and — blessed be those who provided them — chairs for sitting.

I took one next to Ralph Ayers, who had also arrived with a walking aid because he’s recovering from a tumble. Those who know how active Ralph has been in and for Newburyport will appreciate what slowing down means for him.

We go back to a very long time ago to the heart of old Ward 5 when I would scratch for a penny to buy a Squirrel Nut Bar from his family’s store at the corner of Kent and Monroe.

There’s historic precedence for gathering before the Newburyport City Hall to give voice to history, and there was a significant attendance — largely of families with children — spread in a kind of semicircle from the corners of Pleasant and Green streets to Brown Square.

Many a speech has been made from City Hall steps since the 19th century, and sound travels well from there.

I was particularly touched by Mayor Donna Holaday’s reading of the names and brief histories of veterans who had died between Memorial Day and Veterans Day this year.

I found it to be a surprising number, but then recalled that there are only something over 200,000 of those of us remaining of the 13,000,000 who took part in the second of our world wars, and the monthly rate of deaths hastens to its ending. Add to those the veterans of subsequent wars, and the numbers keep growing.

We stood to salute our nation’s anthem and sat to listen to the speeches. When all was said and done, parade resumed to its ending at the Veterans Cemetery.

The settings have changed over time, but the participation has been ever thus.

I recall standing with my mother and baby brother, Harley, (who would, one day, complete his 35th mission over Germany) to watch a Memorial Day parade in which veterans of our Civil War were waving from passing automobiles.

But it wasn’t until I saw Daily News photographer Brian Eaton’s photo of a Cub Scout carrying a full-size flag of our nation’s colors with ease that Norman Rockwell came to mind because he would have loved it.

A very long time ago when I marched in my first parade as a 12-year-old Boy Scout on a very hot Memorial Day, it ended right there, and each of us was rewarded with a Dixie Cup of ice cream.

I like to think Rockwell would have made something of that as well.


Bill Plante is a Newbury resident and staff columnist. His e-mail address is