I Go To a Parade
Springfield turns out to cheer itself on the Fourth
July 14, 1978
Ah, a summer street parade in the Midwest. Is there anything funner? Apart from a parade anywhere else, that is. In fact, apart from anything else.
Nobody is more patriotic than I am. I'm one of those people who stand up when they play the national anthem on television, and when the Treasury Department issued the new $2 bills for the Bicentennial I bought two even though I didn't want any, just so they wouldn't feel slighted. I'm a regular Yankee Doodle Krohe. So when it was announced that there would be a Fourth of July parade through downtown Springfield at 10:30 Tuesday before last. I was there front and center.
Well, not exactly center. It was more sort of off to one side, on the sidewalk. If I'd been in the center I would have been run down by a fire truck or something, and even my patriotism pales at the thought of compound fractures. Well, I am a reporter and I want to report that the whole thing was pretty much fun.
Right up toward the front were the city council members, marching on foot. Somebody in the crowd suggested that they weren't riding in a car like politicians usually do because they couldn't figure out how to charge the city for the mileage but that was unfair. 1 thought. Mayor Telford wasn't there but Jim Dunham was. He gets to be the mayor w hen the mayor isn't there, and today he marched right out front all by himself, back straight, chin up, looking every inch like a man who could look an auditor right in the eye and laugh. Behind him were Jim Henneberry and Frank Madonia and Pat Ward with an assortment of wives and kids, presumably theirs. It struck me that they're just normal folks; if it hadn't been for the fact than none of them had on polyester Bermudas and wingtips you couldn't tell them from the people in the crowd. As they walked by, a little boy looked up to his mother and tugged at her hand. "Mommy, who are they?" he asked. "Just some politicians," she told him. And people wonder why kids would rather go into computers than politics.
Then they got down to business. There was the Statesmen Drum and Bugle Corps playing a disco song; I wondered how 'Semper Fidelis' might sound to a disco beat, and then realised that if I hang around another few months I'm almost certain to hear it somewhere. People don't have time to build floats like they used to for parades—there's too much to do nowadays, what with taking the car into the shop when it's recalled and bailing Teenage Son out of jail—so organizers just call up anybody who owns anything unusual that moves by itself. It's cheap but it makes for a weird parade. There were fire trucks, a special bus for the transportationally disadvantaged or whatever social workers are calling handicapped people these days, a tow truck from City Water, Light& Power, a tow truck from Steve Hall's Standard station (which at least was red, white and blue), a rescue truck from SUSART, a fire truck, a stage coach, a moving van, some police cars from Auburn, even a giant yellow grading machine made by Fiat-Allis that had an engine in the front and a second one in the back, sort of like the dinosaurs that were so big they had a brain in both their heads and their tails. There was even a mosquito-spraying truck from Pat Ward's department, which 1 guess meant that the mosquitoes got the day off. too. Fifth Street reminded me of my closet when I was a kid.
Some of the neatest stuff came in the middle. There was a long line of old cars. Most of them were Model A Fords that people had fixed up. Some were coupés and some had rumble seats and at least one had a flat bed in back. There were some '30s and '40s coupés too, but the Fords were what the crowd liked best. One of the drivers honked his horn—it made a loud "ayuga" noise—when he toodled by and every time a Ford came by all the kids on both sides of the street would yell, "Honk! Honk your horn!" Some of them made a sound like bleating sheep, one sounded like a buzzer, and one sounded like my sister when she has the flu.
Then there were people. Some were dressed up like clowns, some like Civil War soldiers, some like desperadoes from the Wild West. One old guy was dressed like Uncle Sam, another like Abe Lincoln. some like frontiersmen. Those last guys had muskets, which they fired off with a loud "Boom!" every half-block or so. Every time they shot, people on both sides of the street jumped up in the air at once. It was really neat. Can you imagine trying to train two or three hundred people to jump up in the air at exactly the same time? It'd take a week at least.
The costumes were as interesting as the guns, though quieter. Clothes are important in history. Many experts think the British would have won the Revolutionary War if they'd had permanent press. The way it was. they were so fagged out from ironing their uniforms that they were too tired to fight. The Americans went into battle wrinkled but rested.
People in the parade threw out candy and even little Frisbee-like saucers. My brothers were there and they caught one, which didn't surprise me since Mom says they catch everything that's going around. The reason they were there in the first place is that our father was playing in the Municipal Band, which was the last unit in the parade. He's a drummer, and before the parade he was worried that the conductor would ask him to play a snare drum, which he didn't want to do because a parade drum is heavy. He wanted to play cymbals instead because they're lighter. When he finally marched into view he was carrying cymbals and grinning like a man who'd just found out that the lay-off notice he'd received with his paycheck that week was really meant for somebody else.
The band sounded pretty good, even though one of the flute players was marching in platform wedgies, which made me glad John Phillip Sousa died before the 1970s. Anyway, my father has marched in a lot of parades and the part he hates the most is following horse units because of the mess they leave in the streets. (You could tell where the horses were when the soldiers fired their muskets.) He says it's awfully hard to read music and watch where you put your foot at the same time. I had to agree with him there. Columnists sometimes have the same kind of problem.
When I got home I read in the New York 'Times' book review that there was really more than one "Independence Day," that although July 4 is the day a dozen colonies approved the Declaration of Independence, twelve delegates adopted a separate Resolution of Independence on July 2 and that it wasn't until August 2 that the declaration began to be signed officially by the respective colonies.
Think of it! Three parades! Such a prospect would put any parade-lover—or for that matter any mosquito, arsonist or Auburn house-breaker—in heaven. It'd be better than legalizing cherry bombs. □