This morning was the annual Fourth of July parade, and we took our customary seats right where the parade turns onto Main Avenue. It’s a sign of the times in our little town that people started putting their chairs along the route about two hours before the parade began. It didn’t used to be that way. When I moved here 13 years ago, there was less of a sense of urgency. People drove more slowly. They walked more slowly. And they arrived with their chairs just a couple of minutes before the parade began because they weren’t afraid they wouldn’t find a place to sit.
“Should we put our chairs out, too?” my husband, Bruce, asked.
“I think it’s disgusting. I’m not going to be a party to this. It’s a city mentality, this me, me, my, my, my stuff, my things. I’m against it in principle,” I said.
And then I thought about it. “But what if they take all the spots, and there’s nothing left for us?” I asked.
And so we brought out four chairs, two for us and two for my brother and his new girlfriend, and placed them in a shady spot along the parade route, about an hour-and-a-half before the parade was slated to begin. We then walked back to the house to make breakfast.
Just as we were finishing, I could hear bagpipes coming down the street. Bruce and I ran out of the house with the baby just in time to see the “Pipes and Drums of the Jersey Shore” march by in their plaid kilts. Only cops and thick-armed firemen can get away with wearing skirts, I thought.
We saw the same floats we see every year: the band of Shriners, wearing red and white striped shirts, the jalopy that bounces up and down and squirts water, the kazoo players that represent the ice cream shop, and members of the local Republican committee, riding by in a pastel-colored convertible. They had an American flag on their car, they wore American flags on their lapels, and they were waving American flags, leaving no one to guess their country of origin.
My husband stared as the girl who led the marching band from Mother Cabrini High School paced back and forth in front of the band, adjusting the feet of those who stood in the first row by moving them an inch to the left or an inch to the right until they stood perfectly in line with the band members behind them. While she was obviously very good at her job, it was her short plaid skirt and high black boots that captivated my husband. I wanted to remind him that she was probably 12 and would squeal with disgust if she saw a 50-year old man looking at her, but I thought I’d sound small.
Every time a group of marchers went by carrying muskets, I put my hands over my son Eddie’s ears, though only the first group, who were portraying revolutionary war figures, actually fired their weapons.
Even louder than the muskets were the fire engines from every company in our neighboring area. It’s my least favorite part of the parade, because their sirens are blaring at a very high volume, and the parade always gets jammed up when they go by, leaving you with a big old fire truck kicking out exhaust and blaring its siren right in front of you for several minutes before it moves onward.
In years past, I’ve been vexed at the parade because as the participants move by, they often toss candy, and I always want some, but the children seated around me usually grab it. I know if I dove for a piece of toffee , I’d beat out the four- and five- year olds around me, but it’s one of those contests you’re better off not winning. In the past, I’ve tried to sit in an area of the parade route where there are no children, so when the candy is tossed from a float, I can casually walk over to a piece of candy that’s landed on the ground, and pick it up as if I could take it or leave it. But I found that if you’re not sitting near any children, no candy is thrown. The people riding on the floats only toss handfuls of candy into the crowd when they see children.
What a difference a year makes. This year, I had my child, Eddie, sitting on my lap. And sure enough, as the first float went by, a young boy spotted Eddie, reached into his bucket full of candy, grabbed a fistful, and threw it in our general direction. Scattered on the ground before me were Jolly Ranchers, bags of Skittles, tootsie rolls and root beer barrels. There were even a few pieces of toffee.
As the next float went by, it happened again. A young girl on a float spotted my child, and soon another fistful of candy was thrown at our feet. Taffy, jawbreakers, peppermint, they were landing on the street in front of me like manna from heaven. As the next float moved by, I thrust Eddie out in front of me like a human shield, so the children on the float could see I was with child. We were again showered with candy.
As the parade came to a close, we gathered up all the candy that had landed on the street in front of us, and we threw it into the bowl of Bruce’s baseball cap and carried it home. When we got there, I put the hat down on the front porch and sat down next to it and began to sift through it. I plucked out a piece of toffee and unwrapped it, and it crumbled in my hand. I found another piece and unwrapped it, and it crumbled. In fact almost all the candy had shattered on impact as it was tossed from the float onto the pavement. It was disappointing to once again achieve my goal only to have it evade me, like seeing a shimmering light on the horizon only to find, when you finally reach it, that it was just a piece of tinfoil.