Whoever heard of a parade without a fire truck? At the annual Memorial Day Parade in my hometown of Lawrence, Pennsylvania, we had marching bands, local, dignitaries, and best of all — shiny fire trucks.
Daddy was a fireman for the Cecil Township Volunteer Fire Department No. 1 and an auxiliary policeman, duties he considered an honor and a privilege. On Memorial Day, auxiliary policemen were responsible for directing traffic. Daddy traded his black fireman’s hat with the big, white “1” in the front for his blue auxiliary policeman’s hat with the silver badge. Besides the hat, Daddy wore a police whistle on a chain. The sharp “toot” was loud enough to command the attention of any driver. But there was more to Memorial Day than just the parade. On the main street, Georgetown Road, there was an Honor Roll that commemorated the local men lost in wars. Every May 31, there was a ceremony at the Honor Roll that was attended by everyone in town.
Memorial Day was usually bright and sunny. Daddy would get up early in the morning to prepare for his duties. I loved to see Daddy in his uniform. No one else was as handsome as he was, standing straight and tall with the badge and silver buttons shining on his coat. His walnut-brown, freshly shaven face seemed to come alive when he was in uniform.
Most townspeople walked to the Memorial Park around ten-fifteen or ten-thirty to get a good viewing spot and to find their friends. When Momma and I walked to Georgetown Road from our home on First Street, I would look around for Daddy. There were four streets and several intersections in Lawrence and Daddy would be posted at one of them to insure that no cars accidentally got on the parade route.
At 11AM sharp, the fire siren blared to signal the start of the morning’s events. A color guard led the procession with the national and state flags aloft. The members stepped high in their white boots. The band marched up the street in their impressive uniforms. The majorettes twirled and strutted in time to the martial music. Local dignitaries and politicians appeared in big cars with banners on the sides.
My favorite part of the parade, though, was the fire trucks. Our hometown department led the pack, with the main white fire engine shining in the sun. The gold letters on the door gleamed. We were proud that our Department was called Number One, even though none of us knew how the designation was determined. But to every resident of Lawrence, it meant our local heroes were the best. We considered our firemen the strongest and bravest in the township. I knew all the men on the trucks. They were my neighbors and the fathers of my friends. Most of them were Daddy’s co-workers at the mine. I looked at the ladders, dials, hoses, and axes hanging on the sides of the trucks, equipment that Daddy used to stop fires.
Interspersed with the bands and the dignitaries, the other two township fire companies displayed their engines. Each year, there were also fire trucks from volunteer fire departments in surrounding townships and boroughs: Avella, Burgettstown, North and South Fayette. I applauded until my palms started to tingle. After the parade, there was a ceremony at the Memorial Park. The bands sat behind the Honor Roll and played a patriotic tune. A local official placed a wreath in front of the monument. The pastors from the three local churches sat on wooden folding chairs that flanked the granite monument. They stood up together, and one pastor would lead the crowd in prayer. Officers from the local VFW club gave a twenty-one-gun salute. The report from the guns reverberated in the air. After the salute, boys in the crowd raced to get the shells that were scattered on the ground. The bugler from one of the marching bands played “Taps.” With that final salute, the program was over, but no one was in a hurry to get home. Everyone was in a holiday mood, talking and laughing. Momma and I stopped and talked to neighbors from other parts of town. Sometimes we went to Pete’s Dairy Bar for a chocolate milkshake.
Later in the day, Daddy would come home. He would go upstairs to change clothes. He would take off his uniform, carefully place it on a large wooden hanger and store it in his closet. Even without the uniform, he was still special. But at the sound of a siren, he was transformed into a brave hero, willing to risk his life for others. And at the sound of a siren on the morning of May 31, Georgetown Road became the perfect parade route—with marching bands, dignitaries, and of course, fire trucks. Who needed floats and balloons when there were shiny fire trucks to gaze upon?
A version of this essay was published in Reminisce Magazine in the May/June 2003 issue.