I can't remember the first time I attended the Independence Day parade in my town. The town has held it every year since a generation before I was born. For as long as I can remember the day's festivities have included activities in one of the city parks. The city hosts a full day of events starting with an early morning flag ceremony (where they always fire canon) and wrapping up with fireworks in the evening.
The summer I was 14 I marched with the high school marching band in the parade in the morning. Thinking back to how we sweltered in our formal black wool band uniforms, I am pleased to see that the bands nowadays dress far more appropriately for the summer temperatures.
Later that day I wanted to go to the activities in the park. But I couldn't find anyone to go with me. My two older brothers were away working in Hawaii. Two years later I would spend the summer planting pineapples in Hawaii, but that summer life was free and easy. Except for marching band practice many mornings and newspaper delivery in the afternoons.
My younger brother had other things he wanted to do that day and most of my friends were out of town. But I had newspaper delivery earnings to burn. So I hopped on my bike and rode a mile to to the park. It was the first time I had attended this event without being accompanied by family members.
I wasn't much interested in the annual baseball tournament. I was too big for the kiddie attractions. But I was intrigued by the food and by the event where the patrons paid a fee to bash up an old car with a sledge hammer. As I wandered through the attractions in the shade of the trees behind the baseball grandstand, I saw an artist drawing caricatures of people. I paid the princely sum of $5 for a cartoon image of me skiing.
Then I saw a stand where people were buying lemons with stick candy protruding from the fruit. The vendors would cut a hole in the lemon skin through which the stick candy was inserted. I was surprised to discover that lemon juice could be drawn through the stick candy like a drinking straw. You just kept squeezing the lemon and sucking the artificially sweetened naturally sour acidic liquid until the juice was gone. Then you'd eat the candy.
I'm not sure why that particular Fourth of July event stands out in my mind. After all, I have attended various of the city's Independence Day activities throughout my life. Sometimes I have been volunteering and other times I have simply been accompanying my kids. Maybe that year was something of a coming of age thing for me.
Another memorable Fourth of July was when our then four-year-old (whom we call our wandering child) got lost among the crowds at the parade. Thanks to former neighbors that recognized the family resemblance, we were reunited with our wanderer within 15 minutes. But that was a harrowing quarter of an hour.
Our town celebration still has a hometown atmosphere about it. In fact, that is the comment I hear most frequently from nonresidents that come to these festivities. They note that the parade consists mostly of offerings by local schools, businesses, and organizations, with only an occasional parade float. They find the Dutch oven cooking contest and the homegrown kiddie games charming.
While I don't begrudge others coming to our town to drink in the feeling, the sheer numbers of those that do so render the celebration less inviting. Parking for these events has become nightmarish. My family solves this problem by walking or cycling to the various venues. But once there, the press of the crowd limits enjoyment and threatens to sweep away the bucolic charm of which many attendees claim to be enamored. Maybe the problem is that I'm just not much of a crowd person.
I don't know whether I will end up at the parade tomorrow morning. That depends largely upon whether my youngest son goes back to bed (and how long he stays there) after we put up flags in the neighborhood early in the morning. I am not slated to volunteer at any of the other events this year, and we can easily enjoy the fireworks from our home after taking down flags in the evening. Depending on what the children want to do, we may end up avoiding the crowds altogether tomorrow.
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