Our Fourth of July parade here was fun. It always is. The police shut down traffic on the state highway for the Saturday event, and I always feel bad for the first car or the first trucker stopped. By the time the parade is over, the traffic stretches clear out to Kat’s Iron Skillet to the east of town, and Eastman’s Funeral Home on the other side. I personally believe that these two businesses are in cahoots, but that has nothing to do with this story.
There is not one traffic light here on Main Street. Main Street is the state highway. It is busy, busy, busy. My office is on Main Street and ordinarily I am busy as well. For one glorious day each year, however, Main Street becomes the parade route and the only thing occupying me is getting folding chairs out to the sidewalk and jockeying for the best spot. Being a Main Street businessman, I have an inside track. Not that I need it, but it’s fun to think that I do.
Three quarters of the town’s residents come out for the three-quarters of a mile parade. That sounds like a lot of people until you consider that the town contains less than 2000 people. In fact, this is not even a town, it’s a village. The difference between a town and a village is Kat’s Iron Skillet.
The parade is probably terrible by any standard other than ours. The entries that always stick out in my mind are the little baton twirling girls and the flag squads. No two girls are ever doing anything in unison. Not ever. It is as if the adult leaders of these groups tell their charges before the big event: “Here’s how it works, girls. It’s every girl for herself. Try to stay with the group, if you can. If you can’t, then we’ll see you at practice on Tuesday. Just move your flag around, is all I ask. Use it to swat flies, twirl it, scrape it along the road, scratch yourself with it, it doesn’t matter. Just keep moving. Those of you with batons, make sure you drop them every fifteen seconds or so. Throw them and drop them. Got it? We’re going to be aiming a Bob Seger song very loudly at you from the back of a pick-up truck for no apparent reason. Now move out.”
Lots of people throw candy during the parade, either from firetrucks, old cars, or tractors. In fact, this should be called The Candy Parade. It’s candy, candy, candy, non-stop for an hour. The candy comes flying in at your feet in waves so that you don’t even have to leave your seat to snag some. There are Tootsie Rolls, Smarties, Bit-O-Honeys, Fireballs, Sweet-Tarts, Pixie Stix, Dum-Dum suckers, and every brand of hard sweet known to man. Some of the local businesses on floats throw Frisbees. With a little planning and luck, you can snag a Frisbee first, then use it as a plate for your candy. This is the ideal, but few people obtain it. I have never obtained it. But I know that it’s possible.
The out-of-town marching bands are usually pretty good. For some reason, our local marching band is never good. The kids blow through their instruments and beat their drums, but no music comes. I remember the time the director wanted my son Jefferson to play trumpet in the fifth grade band. Jefferson wanted to play drums, but the director said she didn’t need another drummer. She said that what she needed was brass. She said she could train monkeys to hit drums. I had heard her bands, and I asked her when she would be teaching the monkeys to hit the drums at the same time.
Local firemen put on the parade and festival, so there is always a Fireman’s Queen, and she is always young and beautiful—this year was no exception. I do wish, however, that someone would some year teach the Queen to wave from the heart and not from the wrist. I’m not saying that we spectators want “howdied” like farmhands, but we would like to see something other than the standard mechanical parade wave. You know it well: the fingers are cupped and glued together, the hand rotates slowly from the wrist as if on a swivel—thirty degrees to the right, then thirty degrees to the left. And always the parade smile, tattooed on the face and sincere as the glossy façade of a teen mag. What we would not give some year for a living Queen, a genuine waver, a heart-inspired shower of teeth, a Queen who possesses her beauty as well as capturing those of us sideliners wanting to worship her. Until then, we look to the politicians—and avert our eye.
The politicians drag their kids and spouses from bed at 7 a.m. and drive them here armed with balloons and pens and buttons and flags. “Vote for Bill Reid, County Commissioner,” says a plastic trinket. I don’t even know what a County Commissioner is. If I did, I would not want it to be Bill Reid. I would vote for the man wise enough to stay home on the Fourth of July with his family, or take them to a parade they could watch and not prostitute themselves in. How dare Bill and his ilk use this national celebration for political advantage. I always hope that the politicians step in the fruit from the equestrian entries. If any politician on parade wants my vote, he or she can at least enter early and throw a Frisbee. I need a plate for my candy; I need a County Commissioner who cares that I get a plate for my candy.
The parade ends as it begins, with firetrucks blaring. The sirens are super loud. Kids stare google-eyed and dogs bark. The firemen are showing off their vehicles and their sirens, as well they should. I believe they wash their vehicles every day twice a day before the parade, because you have never seen anything so shiny as a firetruck on the Fourth of July, with the possible exception of the top of a politician’s head on the Fourth of July. The firemen deserve our homage, and we give it to them while our hearts move at the behest of their sirens. Our hearts are always moving, thanks, in part, to the firemen.
The truckers coming through after the parade are always somehow in a good mood. This is nothing less than a miracle. I guess they give up and give in to the parade. Most can’t see it, but they all get candy handed to them through their windows, which they gratefully accept.
Well, it’s the Fourth of July in the United States of America.
© 2006 by Martin Zender