Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: A day prompts clapping all around

In “One Writer’s Beginnings,” her wonderful childhood memoir, Eudora Welty recalls an era when traveling circuses, to drum up business, would hold a parade in each town they visited.

In her early youth, writes Welty, “there lived a little boy two or three streets over from ours who was home sick in bed, and when the circus came to town that year, someone got the parade to march up a different street from the usual way to the Fairgrounds, to go past his house. He was carried to the window to watch it go by. Just for him the ponderous elephants, the plumes, the spangles, the acrobats, the clowns, the caged lion, the band playing, the steam calliope, the whole thing!”

This is Carnival season in south Louisiana, and for those of you who happen to live along a parade route, perhaps each year’s procession brings with it the heady feeling that this grand spectacle has been brought past your driveway as a private treat — something cooked up purely for your own enjoyment.

Although no parades roll by my house, I have, for the past couple of years, felt privileged that the route for a runners’ marathon winds down my block. When the big day arrived this year on the third Sunday of January, some writing work kept me confined indoors, and I felt very much like Miss Welty’s classmate, the little boy relegated to a sickbed as the circus arrived.

The beautiful weather outside made my house arrest all the more insulting. Although the month had been almost uniformly gray, that Sunday seemed designed for a marathon. Michelangelo could not have painted a bluer sky, and the sun had warmed the air enough to accommodate shirtsleeves. On such a morning, each minute inside seemed like a life sentence.

But as I sat in an overstuffed chair and typed at my keyboard, waves of applause began to lap up against the window behind me. When the runners passed, many of my neighbors offered ovations from lawn chairs perched at their curbs. In this year as in the previous one, they were clapping for people they didn’t know.

By the afternoon, I was liberated from the living room and planted in a folding chair of my own, sitting on the sidelines of my son’s soccer game. The day remained bright and warm, and other parents hovered between alertness and sleep in the open sunshine, like turtles resting on logs.

Mothers and fathers clapped at each goal, or attempted goal, knowing that we were there to offer encouragement, win or lose.

We also, in some small way, seemed to be clapping for the day itself, a flawless winter afternoon that hinted at the coming spring.

I closed my eyes and thought of that line often attributed to William Carlos Williams, the one that says the only proper response to the world is applause.