The great indoors

08Jun19

When did we become such weather wimps?

Two recent local events that were once routinely held outdoors unless forced inside by a deluge, now automatically happen under the artificial lights of LED bulbs rather than the brilliant sunshine that Mother Nature provides for free.

I’m talking, of course, about the town’s Memorial Day exercises and Wakefield High School’s graduation.

I’m certain that in both cases the permanent move indoors can be rationalized by any number of weather and non-weather-related justifications. I’m sure it would be a royal pain, for example, to set up two graduation venues – Landrigan Field if the weather cooperates and the high school Field House in case it rains.

And no doubt it’s easier for WCAT to televise indoors.

But to just throw in the towel and surrender to holding these events permanently indoors seems a steep price to pay when the weather is picture-perfect outdoors, as it was for both this year’s Memorial Day and graduation day.

And it usually is.

I realize that it doesn’t get reliably warm around here until mid-July, and that only lasts about three weeks. But by late May/early June, when these two events take place — that’s right around the time winter ends and you can count on temperatures being in at least the low 50’s, maybe even the 60s if you’re really lucky.

We did away with the Memorial Day Parade and moved the town’s Memorial Day observance permanently indoors a few years ago. I’ve attended Memorial Day exercises every year for more than 30 years. I could count on one hand the number of times that weather has forced the event indoors and I wouldn’t need to use all my fingers.

And seriously, is there a better backdrop for a Memorial Day observance than our grand (and still new) World War II Monument on Veterans Memorial Common? I know for a fact that the annual Memorial Day ceremony was one of the uses Phyllis Hull envisioned when she spearheaded the drive for the new monument.

I’d be surprised if there were a hundred people at this year’s Memorial Day ceremonies in the Galvin Middle School auditorium. Veterans Advisory Board chairman Jay Pinette offered one explanation for low turnout at Memorial Day events. The solemn holiday was observed on May 30 every year until 1968, when it was changed to the last Monday in May. In the view of many, including the VFW, changing the date merely to create a three-day weekend undermined the very meaning of the day.

“No doubt,” Pinette observed, “this has greatly contributed to the general public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.”
But when it was held outdoors, in front of the World War II Monument on Veterans Memorial Common, the event easily drew several hundred residents every year — not to mention the high school Marching Band and the troops of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts who marched in the parade, as well as family and friends who followed them to watch the ceremony on the Common.

In addition to the hundred or so hard-core attendees, having the observance outdoors on a pleasant, late May afternoon tends to draw out cabin-fever sufferers eager for something to do outdoors after a long winter cooped up inside. Others might just happen to be walking or driving by and will stop to see what’s going on. At least a few of those people will be impressed enough to come back year after year.

And really, other than the most ardent patriots, who wants to head into a dark auditorium when it’s 60 degrees and sunny outdoors?

Most Memorial Day speakers talk about the true meaning of Memorial Day. We should be doing everything we can to grow attendance and get that message out. There is one sure way to increase turnout at Memorial Day. Bring it back outdoors.

Sometimes, it’s actually safer and healthier to hold events outdoors.

This year’s Wakefield High School graduating class lucked out. It was relatively comfortable inside the Field House last Saturday.

The Class of 2018 and their families and friends weren’t so fortunate.

As if enduring the speeches weren’t bad enough, they had to suffer through two hours inside the oppressively hot, unairconditioned Field House, made worse by cramming 500 or so warm bodies inside. I’m sure every one of them would have traded the stuffy recycled Field House air that day for a little sunshine and a feeble breeze at Landrigan Field.

We’ve been told that one of the benefits of centralizing voting at the Galvin Middle School is that it allows citizens to see the new school that their taxes paid for. Well, a few short years ago, Landrigan Field got a major overhaul and facelift at taxpayer expense. Holding graduation on the field would allow residents who aren’t football fans to see and enjoy what their taxes paid for.

And holding graduation at Landrigan would allow for more than just family and friends to attend graduation. Why not let the wider public benefit from an earful of what the next generation of social justice warriors has been absorbing for the last four years?

After all, the taxpayers paid for that, too.

[This column originally appeared in the May 6, 2019 Wakefield Daily Item.]



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