Aside from encouraging small children to risk life and limb by dashing out in front of huge tractors or nervous horses to scoop up handfuls of candy, I don’t quite see the point of parades.
In summer parades, spectators who forgot to bring sunscreen swelter on hot street corners to watch neat lines of musicians sweat in march tempo and members of civic organizations try to simultaneously smile and keep their balance on lurching floats. In winter parades, spectators who forgot to put on long underwear clutch insulated cups of hot cocoa while they shiver on cold street corners to watch riders on illuminated floats try to simultaneously keep their balance and move closer to the strings of Christmas lights in search of warmth.
Maybe I’m just jealous, since my own opportunities to participate in parades have been limited.
As a college freshman, I did ride on a float in the homecoming parade. Not as a queen candidate or any other kind of celebrity, but as one of several girls representing female students through the college’s history. Since it was October, I did appreciate being chosen to wear the 1890s dress instead of the 1920s flapper costume. I even learned a couple of things: First, a thick towel folded over a cord, which is then tied around one’s waist, makes an acceptable substitute for a bustle. Second, historical novels and movies notwithstanding, sitting down in a ladylike manner while wearing a bustle isn’t easy.
Since I played the piano instead of the flute or the tuba, I wasn’t in marching band in high school, either. This didn’t bother me, especially after seeing how miserably hot the musicians looked in their uniforms for the 4th of July parade. At least most years they were placed in line ahead of the horseback riders.
One year, however, the town of Gregory, SD, in order to schedule an acceptable carnival, held its 4th of July celebration two weeks early. The date happened to be my mother’s birthday. Of course, the family joked about the big celebration in her honor.
Maybe that’s what gave us the idea. My sisters and I borrowed our aunt’s car, enlisted her help to keep our mother from wondering too much about why we weren’t watching the parade with the family, and joined the procession. There were the marching bands, local political leaders, VFW, American Legion, businesses, civic organizations, brand-new tractors, beauty queens in convertibles, and the steam calliope. And us—four girls in a 1962 Nash Rambler station wagon with a homemade sign on each side reading “Happy Birthday, Mother.”
We got some laughs, some puzzled looks, a few shouted “Happy Birthdays,” and some disappointed looks from little kids who had hoped we would at least throw candy. Most important, though, we got pleased surprise from our mother. She hadn’t guessed the secret even though she wondered “where the girls are.”
Maybe the whole parade wasn’t for her, but our part of it was. She deserved it, too. Many years and celebrations later, it’s still the best parade I’ve never seen.