Although the COVID-19 pandemic forced cancellations of the borough’s annual Memorial Day and Independence Day festivities in order to limit the amount of people congregating in public, one Haddonfield street kept the spirit alive during trying times.
The 100 block of West Cottage Avenue held their own version of the 4th of July on the holiday itself. Beginning at 10 a.m. — the usual start time for the annual parade along Kings Highway — the block received a “parade” of two buglers, husband and wife Ef and Jack Deal, serenading anyone who decided to catch some fresh air and sunshine before the day turned hot and humid.
Greetings were exchanged; flags were offered; and distinctive, patriotic music filled the air.
For Ef, the celebration held extra meaning.
“If there were a 4th of July parade today, I would not be allowed to be in it, because I’m immuno-compromised,” she admitted. “I’ve battled breast cancer for the last two years. I would not be out there. This way, I’m here, doing what I love.”
Recalling a time when America was still fresh from victory in World War II, Deal recalled her South Jersey musical youth.
“Back before we were teenagers, drum and bugle corps were on every street corner,” she recalled. “Every single town along the White Horse and Black Horse pikes had a drum and bugle corps.
“I was a member of the Audubon All-Girl Corps, and we were national champions, so I’ve been playing the bugle since I was 9.”
Jack lived close to where the corps practiced, but consistent with the attitude of the times, he wasn’t quick to join because he originally thought only girls could be in drum corps. That all changed when he went to see the national competition one year at Philadelphia’s JFK stadium.
The Deals have been bugling ever since. They’ve lived in their home for 40 years, and when COVID forced the town indoors, they tried to make the best of it.
The unique structure of the houses on both sides of the Cottage Avenue block — many of which were originally built as single-family homes in the late 19th century, but now are largely split into two-family units — included porches large enough for multiple residents and friends to sit and relax.
“On nice nights, we’re out here on the porches,” Ef said. “Under quarantine, nobody has left the area, with the exception of somebody who owns a house up in the Poconos.
“We have great neighbors on the other half of our house, and we’d often be out on the porch together anyway.”
So, neighbors on the block have been able to keep their spirits high since the region went under lockdown in mid-March by hosting socially distant porch parties from time to time. They also held solemn celebrations for Easter and Memorial Day, since Jack is a retired pastor. Each time, bugles signaled the start of the celebrations.
Unlike the usual parade route, stocked with hundreds of people cheering, holding cameras and phones with digital-camera quality, Cottage Avenue’s parade only featured a handful of residents, who nonetheless cheered selections such as “The Halls of Montezuma,” “Anchors Aweigh,” and of course, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
In a year where the very institutions that frame American power, peace-keeping and governance are being called into question, one little corner of one small town brought the meaning of the day into sharp focus.
“Freedom comes when you recognize that everyone needs to be free in whatever freedom they find,” Ef said. “And if that means being out on the porch today, then that’s freedom.”