Thursday, July 05, 2007

My Hometown Parade Seen Through New Eyes

We attended, as we do every year, our little hometown Independence Day parade yesterday morning. As we watched the parade, my family found itself situated next to some newcomers to our town. One was a young man from New York. Another was a young man from Mexico City. A couple that had children ranging from mid-20s down to elementary school age had recently moved from a populous area of California.

None of these people had ever seen a celebration like the one they were witnessing. They were truly amazed to see how a small town celebrated Independence Day. When a Scout troop carrying the American Flag passed, almost everyone stood and gave the appropriate salute. The man from Mexico City (a legal resident, but not an American citizen) seemed unsure of what to do. My 14-year-old son explained to him the proper protocol, and he cheerfully joined in putting his right hand over his heart.

The parade this year seemed to take longer than in years past. By my estimation it lasted about 15 minutes longer than last year’s parade. That would be entirely due to having more parade entries. One thing that seemed unusual was a lack of equestrian groups. Of course, that meant less cleanup.

Knowing it was forecast to be a hot and sunny day, we had come prepared with a backpack loaded with containers of ice water, which we gladly shared with our new friends who were less prepared for the dry, hot conditions.

Just before the parade began, a fighter squadron of four military jets from nearby Hill Air Force Base screamed overhead (quite close to the ground) in close formation, followed by a refueling plane at a higher altitude. The crowd was thrilled. A few minutes later several local skydivers jumped from their plane and expertly guided their parasails to land on the street directly in front of the announcer’s booth.

Our parade’s entries are seldom fancy. Local businesses sponsor entries, often as a form of advertising. The city officers and other local politicians ride in cars. There are a handful of restored antique vehicles. Some churches sponsor entries. There are only a few floats that are fancily decorated. The local high school and two junior high schools have entries. They’ve got their cheerleaders and drill teams, their student officers, the high school marching band, and some of the sports teams on display. The city’s emergency vehicles drive the route, flashing their lights and sounding their sirens. Everybody is happy. The atmosphere is festive and patriotic.

The big draw for the younger kids is that many entries pass (or throw) out candy along the parade route. My three younger kids were right out there on the front lines grabbing up all of the candy they could get their hands on. A few entries chucked out other goodies. My kids scored a little plastic football and a T-shirt. My 10-year-old managed to gather four Frisbees, two of which he gave to the men from New York and Mexico City. Each of these men was thrilled to score a T-shirt from the local trout farm.

Some businesses are gauche enough to simply hand out advertisements. Neither the kids nor the adults seemed much impressed with that tactic. A few of the entries squirted water on people that were on the front lines. It was all in good fun. And since it was a hot day, nobody seemed to mind. My 10-year-old requested and received an entire bucket of water dumped on his head. He loved it.

The best things I got out of attending this year’s parade were the comments and perspectives of our new friends from California, New York, and Mexico — and the looks on their faces. Their expressions of delight and amazement were almost childlike. They had never experienced anything like this event; something that I have taken for granted most of my life. They just don’t have events like this in the population centers from which they hail. You can see things like this on TV, but you can’t understand them unless you’re physically present. The newcomers couldn’t believe the feeling of community and goodwill that were present; the natural freedom and exuberance expressed; the easy mixing of people of all ages.

My enjoyment of this year’s community parade was enhanced because I was able to see it through the eyes of newcomers. I enjoyed it more because of how much they loved being a part of the celebration.

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