In Port Ewen on Monday, the echo of a bygone era took center stage. Townspeople waved the American flag, and many paraded down the center of Route 9W to remember and honor that ultimate sacrifice made by our troops in America’s multitude of foreign conflicts.
The Memorial Day event was organized by a Town of Esopus civic triumvirate consisting of the fire department, the emergency response service and the police department.
With sirens flashing, the fire departments of Rifton, Esopus, Connolly, Port Ewen and St. Remy sent their trucks along the parade route. They were joined by clumps of people: men in VFW hats, a color guard, a local children’s soccer league, the Esopus Business Alliance, representatives of the local Catholic parish, and other enthusiastic participants. The parade route was sparsely dotted with well-wishers and spectators waving handheld flags.
Police officers blocked off a mile of the highway and sent the holiday traffic detouring around the downtown parade route. The intersection of Hasbrouck Street and the highway provided the perfect wide, flat vista for pictures of the parade as it passed down the center of the block to its completion.
There was a shimmering quality to it all, a regressive mixture of kitsch and nostalgia which in 2022 made it seem remote, not quite real. At one moment, there were cars when there should have horses, disaffected teenagers where there would have been baton girls. In the next moment, the Esopus fire chief rode by as a passenger in a 1930s-model Sanford pumper truck, and the decades seemed to fall away.
A man in a priest’s stiff white collar wearing black sunglasses, a black sportscoat and a panama hat waved a toy American flag in one hand and chanted “God and country, God and county” over and over. There were a smattering of girl scouts in altered beige uniforms.
The local chapter of the Lions Club had arranged to tow a nine-piece brass band behind a truck on a wooden platform to provide the soundtrack to the celebration, with a snare drummer keeping time in the rear. In deference to a hot sun shining under a clear blue sky, only the tuba player wore a straw hat.
Having made the loop up to the Riverview Cemetery for the commemoration ceremony, where the graves of soldiers were decorated with flowers, where the cornet player blew his solemn tune, an equally solemn color guard, two with parade rifles held at sling arms flanking the flag bearer who muttered a military formula of sharp breaths and words, led the procession away.
Ritual observed, the grounds of the Esopus Firehouse was the proud terminus where spectators and participants gathered in the parking lot or at picnic tables for gossip, hot dogs and soft drinks. A small-town carnival atmosphere pervaded, but without the rides, games and excited teenagers. A church barbecue for all without the sermon.
An off-the-cuff estimate put the mingling crowd at around 60 patriotic souls who had resisted the temptation so far to go swimming on this hot summer day.
All said and done, it was a good, clean family affair, which connected the present generations to those gone forever through a demonstration of civic pride gone sepia-colored out on the highway in Esopus.