This wasn’t what Don McLean had in mind when he sang about “the day the music died,” but it fits.
Wake Forest and Garner both canceled their Christmas parades this year, meaning there’ll be no back-bending drum majors, no strutting horn players or baton-tossing majorettes, no Santas tossing candy at tykes lining the parade route. (Say, what’s with the scrimping Saint Nicks who only toss two lollipops at a time when they see dozens of clamoring kids and adults waving frantically from the sidelines? As kids, we used to chase after Santa’s float yelling, “Why so frugal with the fructose?”—although in words more colorful than any candy cane he had in his bag.)
Now, where was I?
Oh, yeah: Wake Forest and Garner. Both municipalities canceled their parades when people protested the presence of floats honoring groups that celebrate ancestors who went to war with the United States government. Officials said they weren’t sure they could ensure public safety.
For those of us of a certain age who grew up in small-town North Carolina, the annual Christmas parade was a huge deal, and canceling it would have broken our hearts.
Were there Sons of Confederate Veterans or Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy floats in Rockingham’s parades? If so, we never noticed. What did we care about some old, gray-bearded men riding on a raggedy float and pining for romanticized faded glory? At that age, we were more focused on catching as much free candy being tossed by Santa as we could.
Some of us were also too busy trying to slip a note to Santa—Oh, so I’m the only one?—apologizing for stealing that baseball out of the Woods 5 and 10 Cent store (chill, I took it back), or we were following the Leak Street Tigers marching band under the exquisite direction of Mr. Lewis Broadnax.
See, it wasn’t Christmas until you saw the Leak Street High School Marching Band that had two—TWO—consecutive drum majors named Larry Diggs. Both were the high-steppingest, back-bendingest drum majors God ever made, and if you want to start a two-hour argument, just ask someone who attended Leak Street which Larry Diggs was better.
The Rockingham Christmas parade was, every year, the most integrated the city—nay, the county—ever got. At a time when the downtown movie theater made us climb a rickety fire escape and sit in the balcony to watch a flick, bands from all-white high schools marched and played in front of or behind bands from all-black schools, and I don’t recall a single racial incident.
That’s not to say there never was an incident: Who can forget the year my twelve-year-old buddy John created chaos along the parade route when he went into the five-and-dime, five-fingered a pack of straight pins, and gleefully began popping the colorful balloons festooning floats and held by little kids.
Someone would ask, “Where’s John?” and then we’d hear a balloon pop or a kid scream, and we knew he was nigh.
The main attraction of the Rockingham Christmas parade was the Morrison Training School drill team. The impeccably pressed uniforms, the shiny boots and helmets, the precision with which they marched—and the admiring oohs and aahs they inspired—almost made getting a five-finger discount on a two-dollar baseball and being sent to reform school worthwhile. Almost.
As for the worshippers of the Confederacy, if they want to honor an ancestor’s treason by naming all of their children “Beauregard” or “Nathan Bedford Forrest”—or by erecting a statue or flying a flag—we say, “More power to ’em.”
As long as it’s on private property.
But don’t expect the rest of us to join in or subsidize your remembrance.
Don Scott, commander of the Col. Leonidas L. Polk Camp No. 1486, a Sons of Confederate Veterans group, told The News & Observer that he “feel[s] so bad for the children” who won’t get to see a Christmas parade. “If it were up to me personally, if it came down to being in the parade or having it for the kids, I would choose the latter.”
What a noble sentiment.
If the sons of—er, uh—veterans were really as concerned about the children as they profess to be, they’d have fallen on their daddies’ swords long ago and voluntarily pulled out of the parades.
BARRY SAUNDERS is a former News & Observer columnist. He publishes thesaundersreport.com.
NEXT WEEK: T. GREG DOUCETTE, a local attorney, criminal justice reform advocate, and host of the podcast #Fsck ’Em All.
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