We pile down the stairs,
more silent than a fire drill.
We pour out the double doors,
no pushing, no shoving.
We blink in the bright sunlight,
no giggling, no shouting.
We gather at the curb,
lining the street in front of our school.
The little ones from the elementary
next door stand waiting at the curb.
No wiggling, no squirming.
Principal and his assistant
grunt quiet directions. In suits.
They are not suit-wearing principals.
(I can count on one hand the times
they've worn suits in three years.)
A huge flag drapes solemnly
from a hook-and-ladder truck.
Just like September 11, I think.
Smaller flags dance in the breeze
from lightposts and in children's hands.
Regular people from the community
gather on the other side of the street.
Moms with strollers, men in suits.
As far as I can see down the hill,
this main street is covered in people.
Silent, waiting, respectful.
Hands on hearts, standing straight and proud.
The whole town coming together to honor
one of our own, whether we knew him or not.
Suddenly, it arrives.
First, a pack of tough-looking veterans
rev their flag-draped motorcycles.
I blink rapidly.
Then that awful black
My eyes are filling fast.
The first cars are the closest family members...
sweet-looking ladies clutching tissues.
Now I have to keep biting my lip.
I don't see the little girls but they must be here...
Old ladies, tough middle-aged men,
active-duty soldiers in full dress attire.
They just keep coming.
Some inhale and put their hands up to their mouths
when they see all of us filling the curb.
Some gesture toward us,
their passengers nodding.
A couple of men in berets wave from a backseat.
A burly man reaches up with his finger
to wipe a tear behind his sunglasses.
Some just collapse into their tissues and hankies.
Cousin's husband is over THERE right now...
Sedans, SUVs, sports cars, vans, trucks.
A shiny black Mustang, a beaten-up Jeep.
Funneling into the historic graveyard,
circling almost back around to our street.
Melancholy bagpipe strains waft through the graves,
their soft melody loud in the silence.
The kids beside me flinch.
42 older cracks echo inside my head.
21 from sharp Marines in dress-blues for Grandaddy,
21 from rickety-but-loyal Legion men for Grandpa.
All at once, the suited principals
wave us inside. Normal traffic comes.
No shouting. No giggling.
A heavy silence hangs in the classroom.
"Why did all the cars have their blinking lights on?"
"Were ALL those people going to the funeral?
"Some of the people in the cars were crying. I saw their tissues."
I'm proud of our students. I'm proud of our town.
I'm proud of our heroes across the country and around the world...
especially those who come home to the sound of 21 guns.