Thursday, July 3, 2014

Independence on Parade


When I was a kid, the little village in which we lived threw a Fourth of July parade.

It was a small parade, with not a lot of excitement, but our humble village in Upstate New York was small and boring, too.  So it kinda fit.

We had a volunteer fire department, and they'd ride their big red trucks through town on the evening of July 4.  Local owners of old cars would line up and drive them through town, too.  And people on the fire trucks and the old cars would throw candy and trinkets to us kids who lined the two short blocks of the parade route.

Beforehand, back at home, Mom and Dad would give us our nightly baths, and then take my brother and me, all squeaky clean in our PJs, down to the village, where we'd sit in the heat and humidity of Central New York's steamy summers, without air conditioning, in those Volkswagen buses my parents used to own.

Our father's mother and sister would usually be up from Brooklyn, taking a break from the chaos of a typical New York City July Fourth, but I can't remember them joining us at our kitschy local parades.  Coming from the big city, they probably didn't think it was worth the bother.

It's an American tradition, isn't it?  The Fourth of July parade.  Here in Arlington, Texas, we have one of the largest such parades in the country, although I don't usually attend.  Julys in Texas are usually beastly hot, even in the mornings, beating anything we had in Upstate New York.  And mornings are when Arlington's annual parade is held, because it's still cooler than the afternoon, or even the evening.  But that's not saying much.

One year, a friend of Mom's was the honorary grand marshal, meaning she got to ride in a vintage convertible at the head of the parade, and she just about suffered heatstroke from the ride.

New York City doesn't have an Independence Day parade, but that may be because practically the entire city succumbs to anarchy when evening comes, and all the illegal fireworks come out.  Honestly, it sounds like the Big Apple is under attack, as bombs passing for pyrotechnics are detonated on any flat surface New Yorkers can find.  It's awful; I simply cannot understand what is enjoyable about it.  One year when I lived there, two people in Brooklyn's Bay Ridge neighborhood were killed when a rocket screeched up into the eaves of their wood-frame home, where it smoldered undetected for a few hours, until it suddenly consumed the roof, which then collapsed.

My favorite Independence Day memories, however, are more recent, and come from coastal Maine, and another Brooklyn.  Only this one is spelled "Brooklin".

Brooklin is about the size of our old village in Upstate New York, and it has a parade, too, consisting of little more than fire trucks from local volunteer fire departments, and locally-sourced antique cars.  But frankly, there are a lot of wealthy summer people "from away" who populate coastal Maine on July 4, and their antique cars are pretty classy, pretty old, and a lot more fun for me to admire now than when I was a kid.

Near Brooklin, at least as the crow flies, is an island called Deer Isle, and one of the villages on that island holds an annual fireworks display that, at least by small-town standards, is fairly respectable.  There's something about fireworks going off above inky-black water that makes them more interesting to me.  Maybe it's the reflection of all the lights and colors on the rippling surface of the water below.

Fourth of July is pretty much a kids' holiday, isn't it?  Like Christmas.  Most of the people launching their earth-shaking pyrotechnics in New York City are kids - or adults acting like kids.  Meanwhile, the official fireworks shows most sensible cities put on every year can bring out the kid in a lot of adult spectators.  Even in Brooklin today, candy and trinkets are tossed to the children lining the village's two-block parade route.

Ironically, though, driving through Deer Isle a few Fourths ago, on our way to a hillside viewing position for the fireworks show, my brother pointed out a newly-remodeled home owned by summer people from away.  And you can tell the difference between homes owned by summer people and those owned by native, local Mainers.  This home's lawn was covered by rented folding chairs and tables with white tablecloths, while tuxedoed caterers set out platters of food amongst candlelit hurricane globes for some fancy al fresco Fourth feast.  Within view of the fireworks, of course.

Leave it to the one percenters to make their guests dress for dinner on Independence Day!  In rural Maine, no less.  While the rest of us dine on barbecued hot dogs and hamburgers in our shorts and flip-flops.  And sweaty kids drizzle melted ice cream down their chins.

Ahh, yes.  To each his own on Independence Day, right?


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