Thoughts on the day, faded Friday lights
WHAT THIS DAY MEANS
Tears are damp
on her field of stars
Stained with blood
her bright red bars
In hallowed halls
debates rage on
As they lay still
in fields of stone
We all must speak
for each honored soul
and paid our toll
So as she waves
this July day
For all who care
we should stop and pray
That all who drink
from freedom’s spring
it is a most expensive thing
FADED LIGHTS OF FRIDAY NIGHTS
He heard whispers the last couple of years. Already he knew what the parade committee was going to ask. He old legs had betrayed him; he was slowing the parade to a crawl. He agreed, before they had the chance to ask him to ride in the lead car instead of walking in front.
It wasn’t just his old legs that contributed to the slow pace. He just wanted the Memorial Day parade to last, him in his soldier uniform and all those memories. Memories flew almost as fast as his hero, Johnny B. Miller could run, or used to run.
William B. “Stumps” Louden would never forget that night or anyone else in this little town. Stump’s senior year. The State Championships. Never before and never since had the “Wildcats” football team made it this far. Six to three, seven seconds, the Wildcat’s ball on the fifty. The outlook was fading. Except for Stump and his hero Johnny B. Coaches’ last time out. Stump, the fullback, and Johnny B., the fastest kid in the state at halfback, listened as coach said, “Let’s do what got us here. Johnny, you take the pitch. Stump, you knock the hell out of anyone that tries to touch Johnny B.”
The crowd was silent. Cleats digging into the chopped up turf sounded like ponies racing on a muddy track. One defender left, Johnny B. slowed just enough to let Stump get one yard ahead. One could hear the collision clear into the parking lot. Stump would say later about his hero, “Johnny got by so fast I didn’t see him but I sure felt the breeze.” By the time Stump wiped his bloody nose and got to his feet, Johnny was already on the shoulders of teammates and fans. His hero high in the air was just fine with Stump.
Ninteen forty was not a great year to graduate. Something called the Second World War. Johnny B. and Stump, along with most of their class, knew what their first job would be. Going through boot camp together, then “D” Day arrived and their company drew short straw. They were in the very first launch to land.
The bullets fell like angry raindrops zipping all around. Halfway up the beach, Stump looked back. He saw Johnny B. at the edge of the bloody sea. His first thought, his hero was hit. His best friend was not hit, he was in a fetal position, crying. Stump knelt, “we gonna be okay Johnny B. Them Friday night lights are shining on us.”
Over dunes, hills and up the cliff. Stump, with Johnny on his shoulder, sat down yards from a German “pill box” that was reining terror on the beach below. “I’ll be right back Johnny. I’m gonna quiet those old boys down.” When Stump slipped the grenade into the bunker the blast killed all inside but sent Stump tumbling backwards and out like a light. When he came to, some other soldiers had hoisted Johnny on their shoulders as they came on the scene, believing Johhny had secured the “pill box”. Stump gave a big ol’ smile seeing his hero once again hoisted high. The headlines a few days later in the hometown paper…Our Hero, Johnny B. Lives On”. That was just fine with Stump.
A minor wound in southern France sent Johnny B. home to a hero’s welcome. The town even named their Memorial Day parade the Johnny B. Miller Memorial Day parade. That was all right by Stump because his hero lived on.
When the war was over, Stump arrived to an empty railroad station. Only an uncle, who gave him the news his beloved grandmother had died, was there to greet Stump. She had raised him from early childhood. They shook hands, and then the first question rolled off Stump’s lips. “Where is Johnny B.?” “He lives in that mansion on Marble Top Hill,” his uncle told him. Do you remember Margie, that beautiful cheerleader whose dad owns the town? He married her after he returned from the war.”
Johnny met Stump at the front door with a Scotch on the rocks. “You remembered Johnny!” “Stump, they want me to lead the parade this year and I want you by my side, just like on them Friday nights.”
Every year, side by side, Stump was in his glory walking just a slight step behind his hero. Year after year, side by side, until one year Johnny wasn’t there. He had killed himself. His wife knew the demons chasing him. Stump did not want to know.
Months after what was to be Stumps’ last parade, the boosters designated the Wildcats first game “William B. Stump” Louden Night”. Only the maintenance man, who turned on the lights, beat Stump to the stadium. A new scoreboard graced a new stadium. “But the same sacred soil” Stump whispered as he stood on the fifty. He walked slowly, trying to trace those long ago foot prints. He leaned over at the thirty and felt the crunch. Ah, what a great feeling! The last thing he felt was a brisk puff of wind. They found him there with the most beautiful smile across his weather-beaten face.
The stands were quiet that evening. When the game was over a discarded program lay among the empty seats. The wind had blown open the over and the first page proclaimed “William B. Louden” night. A note at the bottom…Stump promises some Johnny B. stories at tonight’s banquet…