May 1, 2023
As I mentioned in my last post, the fiction writers group is creating a collection of short stories. We should submit ones that are between 1,200 and 1,500 words. Below is a memoir that I originally wrote about five years ago. I revised and submitted it yesterday.
Independence festivities kick off with a twilight parade. Since my daughter will perform, I leave work at 12:00 on Wednesday. Another hot, humid day. I’m drenched with sweat before I reach the Chicago parking garage. As soon as my minivan starts, I full-blast the air and check the time. Tessa’s babysitting my seven-year-old son, and she must be at school before 3:00.
Vehicles travel at a turtle-like pace as Chicagoans flee the heat for a long weekend at their Michigan summer homes. Time and traffic conspire against me. It’s 2:45 when I park.
Tessa is watching and opens the front door before I reach the porch. She wrinkles her nose as she hugs. “You’re really late. You need a shower. I’ve got to go!” Dressed in T-shirt and shorts, she slips on flip flops. She’ll change into her heavy purple and gold uniform at school. “Don’t forget I’ll be on the right-hand side.” An impish smile lights her face. “You’ll be surprised by what we play today.”
“Forgetting a water bottle? Need a ride home?”
“You know they always make sure we have enough water. I’ve got my key, so I’ll walk.” She rushes out the door.
“Jase, I’m home. Where are you?”
“In my room. Can Taylor come with us?”
“Sure. I’m going to shower.”
First, I phone my elderly parents. “Hello Mom. Are you sure you and Dad want to be out in this extreme heat? Okay. Tess said she’d be on the right-hand side, so we’ll meet across from the Kennedy Avenue butcher shop around 5:00. Oh, I just got home. She didn’t say she called. Love you.”
I shower then don shorts and a halter top. After applying minimal makeup, I go into the kitchen to add ice-filled water bottles to my tote. I want to get there before barricades block the streets. “Jase, we need to get a move on!” From his dejected look, I know Taylor can’t come with us. “Hurry up. Zorro needs his walk.”
He takes out the dog while I slip on sandals, then pick up his cap and my hat. Jase returns, takes his baseball cap and the tote. Outside, I start the van, blast the air, then glance at the clock.
“We don’t have much time, kiddo. How about Arby’s and then Dunkin Donuts for iced coffee?”
“Can’t we go to McDonald’s?”
“Not today. Want to split a large curly fry?”
It’s almost 5:00 when we reach Highland. Traffic barriers block Highway Avenue, so I navigate residential streets to reach the butcher shop. Its lot is full. I park three blocks away. Putting our food sack inside my tote, I then hand it to Jase. I make sure that he’s wearing his baseball cap, has drink in hand plus a bag for candy. I don my hat, sling purse over shoulder, place drink on roof, grab our camp chairs from the back, then lock up my van. I retrieve my iced mocha coffee and suck on it. Ah, that hits the spot. It’s too hot out here!
We walk back. At the stoplight, I check to see if any other relatives are there. Finding an open spot across from the shop, I put down my drink, shrug off our chairs, get them out of the carry sacks then set up. Jase drapes the blanket on the curb. We sit down to enjoy our beef and cheddars.
As I slather sun block on both of us, I see some relatives have arrived. I wave, wait for a stray car creeping down the street, then we jaywalk across. My cousins and I chat about the ongoing heat and mounting death toll. It’s now reached over a hundred. Deaths are most prevalent among elderly people living alone. No matter their age, everyone must be concerned about heat exhaustion.
As other relatives arrive, we exchange hugs. I’m shocked when I see my cousin’s daughter Stacy. She and Tessa are the same age. Though they attend different schools, they are usually involved in similar activities. I’m surprised she isn’t playing in her band and cannot believe the amount of makeup she’s wearing. She looks tawdry.
At 6:00, the police brigade appears six blocks south. It’s time to go back across. Jase settles on the blanket. Hand shading my eyes, I search for my parents. The parade’s starting. Why aren’t they here? Relieved, I finally see them.
I rush down the block to retrieve chairs from Dad’s shoulder and take mom’s tote bag. “Where’s Paul?”
“He dropped us and went to find a parking spot. Because of him, we couldn’t get close.”
My oldest brother never gets anywhere on time!
Once they are settled, I give both parents a kiss. Moisture beads Dad’s face. “Would you like the last of my drink?”
He sips, then takes off the lid and grabs a chunk of ice. As he runs the ice across his forehead, I hand him a napkin. Glancing at Mom, she’s wearing a long-sleeve, turtleneck shirt with a blouse over it and has brought a jacket. “Aren’t you hot?”
Mom shakes her head as she waves to her sister’s family and receives answering waves. Paul appears carrying a sack of sandwiches and a carton of drinks. Settled into the chairs, we chat while they eat.
It’s almost twilight. Police motorcycles reach our section of the avenue and make several figure-eight passes. Several top-down convertibles follow, politicians sitting atop the backseat, tossing out candy and gum. I keep an eye on Jase. Making sure he doesn’t run into the street to grab any. I’m proud to see he isn’t greedy; he makes sure younger nearby children get an equal share.
I watch for Gavit’s marching band uniforms but pay more attention to my parents. Both have survived tough surgeries. I worry about them. A closer examination assures me they’re okay. I lean close to mom. “Is Dad putting on weight again?”
“Oh, you know how he is. Monday, he went to Ultra and bought cookies. Before bed, I found the empty sack in the trash.”
Sighing, I shake my head. “Did Tessa invite you to tomorrow morning’s parade?”
“Yes. Your father said he’d like that.”
“Want to meet for an early breakfast and stake out a spot near the restaurant?”
There’s a lull in the parade. I take a long sip from my iced bottle, then ask Mom and Dad if they’d like some. As I pass it to Dad, I notice my son’s flushed face. “Jase, sit down and drink some water now.”
He’s upset for a moment, then up to grab more candy. A parent grins at me as he hands her toddler a sucker.
At last, I spot purple and gold. “She’s coming!”
The parade slows turning the corner onto Highway, nearing the judging stand. This means her band will perform in front of us. I ready my camera.
Are the students overheated? Will Tessa keep in step? Will her notes be off-key?
Marching in rhythm, Gavit’s band approaches, then stops. Tess glances over and smiles for a second before composing her face. The drum major blows his whistle, then the drums thunder. I’m astonished by the cadence of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk.
Legs flashing up and down, they march in rhythm. Other instruments chime in as the band weaves in formation. One side moving left, the other right; merging in an exquisite blend of movement and melody.
The day’s worries disappear. Time slows.
Trumpet at her lips, Tess dances in tempo, weaving, dipping, twirling. Her sounds are crisp, clear, sweet. The last rays of sunlight make her auburn hair appear like a copper halo fanning out beneath her plumed hat as she moves. Focused on this girl in front of me, I marvel at her grace. My camera is forgotten.
Dad shouts, “Go Tessa!”
She ignores him, concentrating on her steps and music. I see a confident young woman strutting her stuff.
Amazing! When did she become so poised? Where has my little girl gone?
She’ll turn thirteen next month and will start high school this fall. Like a flower, she has burgeoned, but it wasn’t until now that I realized just how much.
The band finishes. Volunteers now squirt water into each student’s mouth. There’s another smile and a wave from my daughter before the group marches away from us.
The remainder of the parade passes in a blur. I don’t recall saying goodbye to my family or returning home.
My daughter will have memories of other parades, such as performing in Hawaii last spring. There’ll be plenty more before she leaves for college. After all, Tessa has three more parades tomorrow. But, for me, this will always be the memorable one, the one I cherish. The one when I recognized her womanhood.