WORTHINGTON, Ohio (WCMH) – The Old Worthington Historic District looked like it would on any other morning Monday in May.
The sun was shining, traffic was sporadic, a few people were out walking their dog or pushing a stroller, and a few were riding bicycles.
All around them American flags hung on poles, not enough breeze to unfurl that patriotic symbol and a reminder of the cost that was paid so that we could enjoy the freedoms we have today.
It is the first Memorial Day in a long time that there was no annual parade held down High Street through the historic district.
The sidewalks were clear of onlookers, children did not hunker on the cement curbs eagerly waiting for pieces of candy to be tossed in their direction from parade floats. There were no children covering their ears from the loud siren or horn blasts from fire engines or military trucks. High school bands did not march down the street to a patriotic tune.
Thousands who would have attended otherwise did not come to the historic district on this Memorial Day Monday because the parade did not happen.
Along the parade route Monday, only one pop-up tent was set up. Its bright white canvass top gleamed in the sunlight, catching the attention of anyone who glanced in its direction. And as you approached, the smell of freshly fried donuts drifted on a subtle breeze.
Music played from a small speaker on top of a car, cheerful laughter and conversation rising above it. A handful of people, maintaining social distancing and wearing masks and gloves, were making and giving away sugar and cinnamon dusted donuts.
Robin Wigney said it was a Memorial Day tradition and that the family has been making and sharing the donuts with parade attendees every year for more than three decades.
“I feel honored that we can,” Wigney said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have the crowd that we usually have and we’re not celebrating on the scale that we normally do, but we celebrate nonetheless and honor nonetheless. Now we have more people to honor.”
It all started when Wigney was in middle school as part of 4H. The donut master, as she called him, was a man named Robert Frost. They have since named the donuts after him.
For Wigney, not having a parade on Memorial Day is a disappointment. She views it as a huge community party and a tradition she at least wanted to keep part of alive this year.
This is why Wigney and her family were making their donuts Monday and handing them to anyone who happened to be passing by.
“We’ve tried to be a spectacle so that they see and can come and say, ‘Hey what’s going on?’” said Wigney.
One person who knew what was going on was Gabriel Finch. Finch has attended Memorial Day Parades in Worthington for most of his life. During many of those parades, he participated as part of the Worthington Swim Club.
“I would come down this street, stop here, they’d throw me a couple of donuts on the float and I’d go to the end and then come back and get some more donuts,” he said with a nostalgic smile.
Finch doesn’t get to experience that same community party feel in New York, where he is attending college. He is a swimmer for Iona College in New Rochelle. He and his roommates were housed one block away from the containment zone set up to stop the spread of COVID-19 in New Rochelle a couple of months ago.
“I was in a pretty hard hit area of New York, so I saw it first hand when it really started happening,” said Finch.
Coming home to no Memorial Day Parade was not welcome news, but understandable.
“It’s pretty disappointing, for good reason, that it’s not happening. I think that it was definitely the best choice,” said Finch. “In the big picture, all of these things are small. We just need to realize that and keep going day by day.”
Wigney held a similar view.
“It’s sad, but we’re justified in foregoing those simple pleasures, so we make smaller scale celebrations in the interest of everybody,” said Wigney. “It’s really not that huge a sacrifice, in my view, that we can sacrifice these little things, we can still celebrate and carry on traditions just in a different form, but knowing that everybody is in this, not just in your neighborhood, or your community, but worldwide.”
Some people strolling through the historic district of Old Worthington on Monday may have been disappointed the parade had been cancelled. But if they happened to bump into Wigney and her donuts, at least they could have walked away with a warm bag of delicious to cheer them up.
What had once been fried to enhance the joy of celebrating and honoring the men and women who sacrificed their lives to protect freedom, was fried Monday to bring comfort to those knowing there are many others continuing to make sacrifices today, putting their lives on the line to care for and save people fighting COVID-19.