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Thursday, April 26 Opinion

In the Suburbs / Booking a great spot to watch Fairfield's special Memorial Day parade

The great thing about working at a downtown book store on Memorial Day is having the town's annual parade go right past our door. While the store's Starbucks cafe was super busy on the holiday, the book side was slow, so I could occasionally sneak to the front door, watch a few floats pass by and snap a discreet picture or two with my phone.

While the floats were great -- especially the amazing town float with its 375th birthday cake -- the best part of the parade for me was when various veterans walked by and spectators burst into applause. I got all choked up when those vets, holding their heads up high and waving to the adoring crowd, passed in front of the store. After all, that's what this holiday is all about.

The bands from the various schools were also terrific, belting out patriotic and military numbers to thunderous applause. I could see parents smiling from ear to ear and brimming with pride as their children marched by. What an experience this parade was, especially for younger students.

Because we opened our doors at 8 a.m. to accommodate parade goers, I saw the transformation of the Post Road into one long parking lot. It looked almost like a throwback to the '50s, before the days of parallel parking and enclosed lots behind bookstores and shops. By the time I arrived at 7:45, the Post Road was virtually a wall of SUVs and other vehicles, and the sidewalk was already peppered with residents, families and out-of-towners dressed in an array of patriotic T-shirts.

I didn't even realize the parade had started until I glanced at the front door and saw a group of classic cars passing by, followed by the vets and the rest of the participants. That was a real treat.

For three years, until last June, I had been at the Fairfield Museum, preparing for its annual town picnic and greeting parade goers as they trudged down the path past the Sun Tavern to join us for lunch and games. But I missed the first selectman's remarks at the viewing stand and all the colors connected with the parade. I felt a little cut off.

But this year, from my ringside seat, I got to see my friend Walt from the museum, dressed in his Colonial garb, marching with his wife and their young son (in a wagon) also in costume. That was a real treat.

Even more fun was seeing the Ackleys, wonderful museum friends, driving what Walt had told me was a Hupmobile -- a long-defunct auto brand. In past years, the Ackleys have driven a Dodge Brothers car, and Gwen was always in the street dancing the Charleston. This year, Gwen appeared to be more subdued in nursing garb and wasn't dancing. The car and the Ackleys are always a big hit at the museum picnic.

My main store assignment on Memorial Day was encouraging shoppers to look at our stock of 375th anniversary T-shirts and sweatshirts with the anniversary logo. Customers smiled and were mostly polite. But more of them picked brightly colored (almost neon) Fairfield T-shirts.

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During the parade, most folks just wanted coffee, a rest room and a short line. Fortunately, we provided all three. And when the parade had passed by, we got busy for a short period with browsers and shoppers until our closing at 1 p.m. It was a mellow day.

It seems hard to believe that this was my 31st Memorial Day in Fairfield. We moved here in June 1982. Of course, for our first Memorial Day parade, when our kids were 11 and 8, we didn't care if it rained or it was sunny and hot. We just wanted be a part of the town and the festivities.

Then everyone got older and busier, and the kids weren't as interested in going to the parade. So we lost a few years of attending this great annual event. But this year, thanks to my work schedule, it was nice to just reconnect with the nostalgia and the history of our Fairfield, and enjoy this parade, which makes Fairfield such a special place.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at: stevengaynes44@gmail.com.