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Patriotism at Its Best: Memorial Day in Orient, New York

2008 Memorial Day Parade in Orient, New York

I’m celebrating Memorial Day by spending the weekend with friends in South Carolina. I’m taking my dog—a pointer and a Jack Russell—to celebrate with their cat and giant poodle. We take walks, we visit neighbors, and we eat ribs. We’ve been doing this for 20-odd years, back through a cast of other dogs, other cats. I guess you might call it a tradition.

What we don’t do is, we don’t watch television. They don’t have one. Therefore we miss watching the mass demonstration of patriotic sentiment on the National Mall. I guess you might call that broadcast a tradition as well, and a good end to a weekend at the beach—just a little reminder of what Memorial Day used to mean.

But I know a place, dear to my heart, where Memorial Day is the centerpiece of grateful remembrance. I have not, because I moved south some 20-odd years ago, witnessed this celebration of deeply felt patriotism during the intervening years. The place is Orient, New York—a hamlet on Long Island—where I once directed the local historical society, which had the advantage of housing the only photocopier in the village; thus I knew practically everyone in the area.

Orient is off the Main Road (formerly Kings Highway), which carries traffic to the very end of Long Island’s North Fork. In the years since I left Orient to live in Savannah, this road has become the intensely crowded route to the Orient Point ferry, the major conveyance to a Connecticut gambling casino. Most New Yorkers and New Jerseyites know Orient’s location only because of that cross-Sound destination.

The village (established 1650) has one main street and a couple of adjoining roads, a celebrated farmstand, and the Oysterponds Historical Society, which cares for half a dozen 19th-century buildings and a collection of very worthwhile local objects. Its citizenry is likewise very worthwhile, and includes a substantial number who can trace their ancestry on this small peninsula back to the 17th century. (Those who can claim only three or four generations of residency are spoken of as “from away.”)

One enters Village Lane, Orient’s “downtown” street, by skirting the memorial to the honored dead of the Civil War. It’s a grand obelisk, and a grand climax for a parade of mostly villagers, including children on tricycles with American flags on their handlebars, excited to behold the full complement of the Orient Fire Department’s rolling stock, replete with bells, whistles, and sirens. Otherwise, it is the turnout of almost the entire citizenry of Orient (population 743 in the last census) with poppy boutonnieres, babes in arms, and dogs, leashed and mannerly.

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  • Susan B. Johnson May 25, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    What a colorful, well-written piece! It made me nostalgic for my own small-town childhood in the mid-west.

    Bravo, Barbara! Thanks for the memories.

  • Margaretta Colt May 25, 2015 at 10:49 am

    Thank you Barbara Fertig for telling us about the best kind of Memorial Day, with a simple recognition of those who served, and the participation of all parts of the community.

  • Patricia. Moscatello May 25, 2015 at 8:23 am

    I love a parade! What a great way to celebrate Memorial day.