Meanings and Memories of Parades

(Photo: Detroit Greek Independence Day Parade)

The Golden Chain of Hellenism which extends millennia deep into the mists of prehistory consists not only of the threads of literature and the remains of monuments but also of the filaments of our own memories which melt into the haze of our childhood, recollections of events and celebrations that turn the words of our schoolbooks into echoes of the poundings of our own hearts accompanying the bands that stirred our younger selves with crowds on Fifth Avenue. In our little chests we felt the very passion of the heroes of 1821.

Alas the parade has been postponed. This year Manhattan’s most famous boulevard will not welcome spring with a joyous sea of blue and white. We will not feel the glorious illusion of sunshine on a rainy day late March day when our faces and souls light up as the Evzones and todays mirror images of ourselves, our own children and grandchildren, march by dressed in professional splendor and the magic of childhood respectively.

There will be no Greek parades anywhere in 2020 around March 25, one year before the bi-centennial of the revolution we celebrate, not in New York, and not in the Hellenic Homeland either, a little voice just told me.

As I write these lines, moments after I thought to call my Greek-Irish American colleague to wish him a happy St. Patrick’s, whose parade was also hacked by the coronavirus – I received a message not from the Angel of the Lord of the Feast of the Annunciation, but the Municipal Authorities of modern Athens telling me, in Greek and English, heralded by ominous tones and a woman’s voice: “Do your part” to stem the spread of the coronavirus, “do not leave your house tonight.”

And indeed I will do my part, because as a citizen and Greek Orthodox Christian I will express my love for my neighbor. Happily, because with my God-given reason I know that if each of us looks out for the other, we ourselves will be protected too, and we will overcome this crisis the way our ancestors faced adversity before and after 1821.

It still saddens me, however, that this year, there will be no parades, which I am certain are a big part – certainly in the Diaspora – of the pride and sense of obligation we feel to Mother Hellas.

But we have our memories of parades past, that I am delighted to review here. My strongest image, however, is not accompanied by a memory.

I have a photo of a diminutive two-year-old boy (yes, more diminutive than his peers) in full Evzone regalia, flanked by his proud dad Tony and Pappou Kosta, walking down Arden Street in Inwood, way up in Manhattan. North of 200th Street. To get there you ‘Take the A Train.’

Little Dino must have been very happy to be an Evzone in the early sixties, but by the end of the decade, that was not a getup he wanted his American friends to see him in. Shame on him, perhaps, but adolescence was coming and he knew the difference between girls laughing at you and laughing with you.

So one of the happiest days of his life was when he became a Cub Scout, and marched up Fifth Avenue with the Three Hierarchs Church of Brooklyn. Later, he was a Golden Greek of Boy Scout Troop 531, led by the great Mr. ‘Kay’ John P. Kentouris.

Marching proudly, thrilled I did not have to wear a ‘foustanella’, I heard strange sounds ahead. People shouting. As I got closer I saw banners. People waving signs. They were not happy. When I asked one of the ‘adults’ after the parade, I was told they were ‘treloi’ – crazy. The people were protesting the Greek junta. Later my Greek school teacher’s commentary also fell flat. Only my ‘American School’ teacher – God bless the beautiful and noble Mrs. Judy Schwartz – cleared things up. She had seen them on the news the night of the parade. “They are protesting against the junta Dino, defending Freedom and the honor of the Greek people and their history.”

Thank you Mrs. Schwartz. Sometimes we need a ‘xeno’ – a ‘foreigner’ – with ‘philotimo’ to help us appreciate the honor of being a Greek – but parades help. Του χρονου!

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