Parade Conjured Memories

As a child growing up in New York City we always went and sometimes, marched in the Saint Patrick’s Day parade. Wearing my Mary-Janes and double-breasted wool coat, I proudly strutted alongside my Grandfather as he walked, shoulder-to-shoulder with other tweed-cap wearing immigrants from County Cavan. My parents also used to bring us to anti-war marches — a little less festive than a parade.

Lately, in working on my memoir, I have been recalling these protests. Perhaps a key to how, armed with a Bachelors Degree in sculpture, a resume full of waitressing, and a few years of teaching English in Kyoto, I ended up with a job in a Bosnia during the war. What do you think? Here’s a (still raw) excerpt:

“Nights in my apartment in *Kiseljak were harder to bear as the winter dragged on into what should have been spring. For days on end, my cold apartment remained without electricity or water.  To stay warm I crawled into bed to read by candlelight, falling asleep early just to pass the time.  I missed Ian. These days, the telephone rarely worked so there was no comfort in our evening talks. Time apart became harder to bear since our weekend in Italy.

When the sun made a rare appearance in this mountain village, I felt the promise of spring, but nights remained long and frozen. Alone in the darkness, I listened to the terrifying grumble of tanks rolling through the street outside.

What the hell was I doing in this place?

Terrified my sweaty fingers might slip out of my father’s dry, soft hand, I squeezed harder, hoping he might notice my fear.  Shuffling along in a sea of adults protesting the Vietnam War on the streets of Manhattan, I kept my eyes on his profile against skyscrapers, sure I’d get lost in this crowd. I dared not tell him. I was 7.

My English teacher parents often brought us kids to marches and peace rallies. Personally, they followed the Irish-Catholic script of the 1950s – marrying at twenty and producing four children within 5 years. They sent us to Catholic school, happy to have others instill the fear of God in us. But socially and politically, they were proudly liberal and they encouraged us to speak up against injustice.

We lived in non-descript apartment buildings in the nicer parts of the Bronx. My brothers squeezed into one tiny bedroom and my older sister and I shared the other. At dinner, to avoid the cacophony of four children vying to be heard, my parents required we raise our hands when we wanted to speak. After dinner, we watched the Vietnam War on the news, full of gunfire and dead soldiers in black and white. The memory of anger, the shame and conviction that something must be done — daunting as that may be.

Idealism still pulses through my veins, but just as years ago, I hoped my distant father would lift me up safely above the terrifying anti-war crowd, I longed to be swept away out of the dark cruelty of this war.”

(Names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent!) Anyway, not everyone loves a parade, do they?

*Kiseljak a Bosnian-Croat village about 20 miles outside of Sarajevo where I was based with UNPROFOR – the UN Peacekeeping Operation in Former Yugoslavia.

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