As soon as I moved to the Rock nine years ago, friends kept telling me, “You absolutely have to go to the Coupeville Memorial Day Parade!” And so I have, almost every last Saturday in May since 2009, waving my miniature flag and shouting hello to virtually everybody in Coupeville as they marched endlessly by me, while I sat on the sidewalk outside the Knead and Feed.
I quickly learned that it would be superficial and a putdown to call this parade a Norman Rockwell slice of small-town America or a throwback to some patriotic good old days that never really existed. Coupeville isn’t stuck in the 1950s.
These days, it’s filled with people who have moved here from everywhere else, of every conceivable background and political stripe. Red, blue, purple, green, decline-to-state, all-of-the-above, don’t-like-any-of-the-above.
I have sometimes called Coupeville “Switzerland on the Rock,” caught in the middle between the more liberal south end and the more conservative north end. Coupevilleans like to argue, of course, but usually over more important things … such as where the best low-fat lattes are.
So, on Memorial Day weekend, people march in Coupeville not to advance a political point of view or pretend to be more patriotic-than-thou. They do it mostly because it’s fun. And it’s also a liberation from the straitjacket of today’s nasty political divisions and ugly chatter. How do I know? Because this year I finally joined the rest of the town and marched in the parade.
I strutted down Main and Front Streets with members of the Trust Board of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve and the Friends of Ebey’s, the Reserve’s fundraising group.
Some spectators cheered us; others just ignored us and watched for flashier things coming behind us. We were promoting the 40th anniversary of the Reserve, a remarkable community achievement worth celebrating. We waved and told children how grateful we are that the Reserve will be there for them and their children.
We marched behind the Navy Color Guard, a variety of veterans groups, the high school band and several dozen local organizations from the Lions to the 4H.
We ended at the Town Park, where we sang the national anthem, heard speeches and paid tribute to those who died defending the country. It was about as nonpartisan as I used to think the Fourth of July was.
I felt exhilarated the entire time. Not once did I care what the president had tweeted that morning; not one spectator held up a disagreeable political sign or yelled something nasty at somebody. People were passing out candy instead of pamphlets.
The only slight political intrusion came when we noticed that the two candidates running for Island County sheriff seemed to be trying to outdo each other by seeing who could enter the biggest truck in the parade.
If only all our political arguments could end with a laugh like that.
I am hesitant to say I feel proud to have marched, waved, saluted and sung the anthem with gusto in Coupeville over Memorial Day weekend. Words like “proud” have become co-opted in our divided political environment, sometimes conveying unintended messages. Sad.
But I did feel good about it and really glad I did it. It made me connected, in the most positive way, with the community and country in which I live.