Our town hosts an annual July 4th celebration complete with 5K run/walk, street festival, fireworks in the high school stadium, car show and…parade. The parade route is a 2 mile stretch from the high school through the center of town and ends near one of the elementary schools.
Over the main intersection in town a large American flag waves hoisted aloft by a large green crane. Electricians are out setting up temporary electrical service for the many street vendors that will be selling their wood carvings, homemade soaps, beaded jewelry and corn hole sets. There will be kettle corn, funnel cakes, tenderloin sandwiches, Italian sausage and lemon shake-ups. Stages with red, white and blue bunting have been set up for days ready for musical acts from around the area. And, at strategic locations and set back at a distance, are rows of portable toilets. When I see them waiting empty, I thank my lucky stars that we live within a long but doable walking distance of the parade route.
The highlight of the celebration is the parade. Weather permitting, there is usually a flyover of military planes or historic replicas of some long ago era. The fire department starts the parade with as many trucks as possible participating. The festival marshals and then all the high school scholarship winners come by in the fancy cars…some old, some new…that will be participating in the car show. And then the bands and cheerleaders and sports teams and dance teams and the staff of the local park district and a van from the senior center and floats — some elaborate and some the back of a pick-up truck with signs hanging from the side — and sprinkled throughout are the politicians — local, mind you for city council type positions (though occasionally we’ll get some higher office candidates marching too). There is usually at least one troop of horses and riders marching in the parade. And tradition has the high school Varsity Football players following with a wagon and shovel to scoop up droppings.
And I love it. Every single minute of it. Rain or shine, I can’t help but smile. It is my community marching by and waving from their lawn chairs in the grass along the route. It is a big family reunion 2 miles long.
For years, we have set up chairs toward the end of the parade route. Not necessarily the best position because many of the marchers bring candy or paper fans or refrigerator magnets and often, by the time they reach the end, they are out of their booty. One year, we set up chairs closer to the beginning. Our haul of candy and trinkets was better but it just wasn’t the same. Tradition.
Some years our kids have marched with their various clubs and teams…I walked with our youngest when she was playing basketball. Those kids dribbled their basketballs the entire 2 mile route.
We’ve watched or marched in the parade every year that we’ve been in town. Even in downpours. If the kids can march, we can watch. But this year there wasn’t as much family interest in setting up chairs to watch the parade. I have a house full of teenagers now and local parades and street fairs don’t have the same draw.
Without family to sit with or to watch marching by, I wasn’t going to go either. But about an hour ago, I could not help myself. I wrapped my chair in a black trash bag in case of overnight rain and drove up and down the parade route searching for a small empty patch of grass.
Because I remembered the color guard, often made up of members of nearby VFW chapters. When the flag comes by, we all get up out of our lawn chairs and clap and cheer as they march by. And we stand again when the Boy Scouts march holding a giant flag stretched out between them. And we stand again for the flag displayed on the front of the fire truck And we stand again when one of the mounted horse teams is carrying a flag. Again and again and again. We stand every single time.
This year seemingly earlier than ever, neighbors started putting chairs out along the route almost a full week before the parade. They stop their minivans in the road, open the back hatch and drop 1, 2, 3 or more lawn chairs in the grass. Or they might take string or caution tape and mark off a patch between two small trees. And the chairs and tape stay there. All week. And no one moves them.