This morning was my town’s annual Fourth of July parade, and all the usual suspects were there: the high school marching bands, the bagpipers, the kazoo players representing the local ice cream shoppe, and the endless stream of fire trucks and public service vehicles sounding their sirens and honking their horns so loudly you have to put your hands over your ears.
This year, a Christian organization called Calvary Chapel Relief was represented in the parade. The organization generously donated volunteers to help fix our boardwalk, which was badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy, after FEMA denied our request for funding. The parade now gave those volunteers an opportunity to hand out cards that boldly stated, “God—” something or other. I’m not sure what else the cards said as I put all three I was handed into my pocket without reading them. But their proselytizing was a reminder that nothing comes for free.
While the floats are interesting, the allure – at least for the kids – is the candy that the parade participants throw as they move by. In years past, I’d sit on the sidelines waiting for candy to be thrown, but those in the parade only toss it when they spot children along the route. Until recently, I had no child, so very little candy came my way. Once I had my son, Eddie, I looked forward to the parade because I knew we would be showered with sweets.
The first year my son attended, I held him up like candy bait, trying to attract the attention of parade participants. Some did throw candy, but because I had a baby in my arms, it was difficult to dive out into the street to retrieve it.
The following year, my son was old enough to catch the eyes of those on the floats, and I didn’t have to hold him in my arms to keep him upright. But he was too small to run out into the road to collect the candy, so I had to jump out into the street, myself, pushing and shoving to get our fair share.
This year, Eddie was old enough to understand what candy was about and big enough to represent our family in the fight for sweets, but we inadvertently sat next to a family of six, whose children were older and larger than my son, so when any candy was thrown, he was shut out. It was like watching a first grader trying to play varsity football. Time and again, the candy would be thrown, and a hoard of children would descend on it, picking the pavement dry but for a roll of Smarties that had been stepped on or flavored licorice that looked too sour to eat. A couple of times, I shot out into the street to beat the kids to the candy, and I did manage to collect a couple of pieces that I quickly deposited into my son’s candy bag.
After a couple of rounds of watching my son get nothing, the mother in the neighboring family yelled at her children for their behavior. Nothing inspires generosity in children like a parent screaming at them to be charitable. The next time a float went by and candy was thrown, the mother stood over one of her sons and yelled, “Now, you give him that candy. Go on! Give it to him! He’s just a bay-bee!”
And with that, the boy, who looked about seven, handed a bag of Skittles over to my son, though he paused for a minute before releasing it into my son’s candy bag.
From then on, under the watchful eye of his mother, every time a float went by and the street in front of us was littered with candy, the boy and his sister would run out into the middle of the road like seagulls diving for bread. They would then walk over to my son and hand him a piece or two of their harvest.
But I began to notice a pattern. While the streets would be glistening with some of candy aisle’s most delectable treats — tootsie roll pops, nerds, Swedish fish, gobstoppers – the only things being deposited into my son’s bag were jolly ranchers, hard candies wrapped to look like strawberries, and butterscotch, most of which had shattered on the pavement. Candy, like most things on earth, can be ranked, and my son was being fed candy not even from the B-list but from the F-list, the candy that if you stole from your child’s Halloween trick or treat bag, he wouldn’t even notice, the candy that people give to kids when they don’t want them to eat candy. In a word: granny candy. But worse, these children were now getting kudos from their parents for their generosity.
I considered telling their parents that their children weren’t in fact sharing candy. They were disposing of it — after they’d cherry-picking all of the good stuff. But my attention was diverted when some marchers walked by carrying red, white and blue beads and began handing them out to people along the parade route.
“Can we have some beads?” I yelled to a woman who had a sleeve of white beads running up her arm.
“She already has some,” the woman said, pointing to my son. “There are a thousand kids here today who don’t have any.”
She begrudgingly handed me two strands of white beads and walked off. I held them out in front of me, like one might hold a stinky fish, not really wanting them anymore. She had tainted them with her nasty attitude. I decided to give them back. I set off down the parade route looking for her. By the time I found her, she was about two blocks away. I tapped her on the shoulder and held out the two strands of beads.
“Here. You obviously need these more than I do,” I said, in the most facetious voice I could muster. I wanted her to feel small.
“Thank you,” she said, graciously, and took the beads back. She then turned around and walked off.
Apparently, generosity, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.