Some jets practicing for a local airshow streaked overhead and scared my cats off the desk. That reminded me it's getting to be the Fourth! Back in my small town, we didn't have anything as fancy as jets going overhead on the 4th. It was quieter, no firecrackers allowed in town. And the only firework stands were miles away in the valley and doing a brisk business as a fundraiser for one local group or another despite the risk of burning down the countryside in the parched summer weather. So no firecrackers, no jets, but kids would carry their kites around all day to fly in the park after the parade. Then everybody would kill time with dinner at a long picnic table or go home for the meal, then by taking naps, running around, eating corn on the cob, or playing til nightfall eventually arrived, and then the official fireworks were ignited and they lasted only a few minutes because those things were expensive.
I thought about the annual 4th of July parade as it once rolled down a major thoroughfare in that small precious village of my past. Almost everyone was invited to take part. If any had a convertible, or vintage car or truck, or unicycle, the vehicle made its way into the parade. The old flat black model T truck that had performed each year would roll again bedecked with a flag on a side mirror and a load of watermelons piled in the short bed. The boyscout troop, with shoulders thrust back proudly and emulating military precision, would stream down the boulevard shoulder to brown uniformed shoulder, clad in shorts, their chubby knees daring sunburn.
The yearly ubiquity, a fancy convertible bedecked with long gardlands of white paper flowers and unusually somber older ladies in jersey dresses and large hats seated in the back, with the car's signage proclaiming they represented the Daughters of the American Revolution. The tennis team would march in white shorts and collared polo shirts while carrying their rackets. There would be a burst of brassy music from the marchers who had held trombones and trumpets at the ready until they reached a particular landmark where they were signaled to begin playing, and the boom of the high school football team bass drum. And a few snare drums, or at least one, because there was always a group of young teenage boys selected to represent the Spirit of 76 with flute, drum, and head bandages. The John Birch color guard would sound whistles and twirl the flag like acrobats, ready to perform publicly after endless drilling on the high school football field after hours, and their shiny chromium helmets sparkled and gleamed in the sun as did occasionally the wood stocks glint on their genuine and likely loaded armed and ready rifles they shouldered as they strutted. Almost everyone in town took part in these annual parades despite the small crowd of onlookers along all five blocks of the parade route. And if you needed a break from the heat, you could always step back into the park under the shade of sycamores and buy a cooling lemonade or sno cone.
The last year I joined with that community to observe these festivities was long ago, the very beginning years of the Viet Nam conflict, and after a small detail of Veterans from Foreign Wars had walked down the road, there had been a few conscripts in khaki and one or two in big-collared navy blue riding in convertibles, too. They weren't veterans just yet, they'd just graduated from high school and were just going in.
They were likely proceeded or followed by the cheerleaders. After the cheerleaders pranced down the road, smiling, shaking their paper pompoms, the long white tassles on their white boots wiggling and swaying, the smaller girls would make their appearance. They'd wear the same one piece swimsuits they used daily at the children's wading pool in the park and march with their knees high, twirling, tossing, and dropping batons. That year for the first time I noticed one of the smaller girls seemed reluctant to take part in the march, a mere supposition on my part, because she was really out of uniform, wearing a paper bag over her head with eyeholes cut out.
And then after all the vehicles and marchers had made their way down the street, there was a sudden wheeled burst down the avenue from a pair of retired missionaries in their electric golfcarts. While the golfcarts had once been allowed access to the sleepy village to allow the enclave of retired missionaries to shop for necessities, the powers that were began going after them. You'd see an electric cart here and there being cited for some traffic violation or another and one of the two uniformed cops in town without a bumper to rest his foot on printing laboriously in his yellow pad. I don't know why they were targeted in particular, maybe it gave the town fathers something to do. But it seemed not only did those vehicles not use gas (an idea that could only have originated from the reddest part of Russia in that day and age and village), they were deemed a traffic hazard. And they just didn't park right in the diagonal slots downtown, as far as the town fathers were concerned. After one incident, which had to do with a cart parked on a little hillock in front of a bank slipping its brake and bumping into a bicycle rack, after years of negotiating safely around town, the golfcarts were summarily banned by the city fathers from operating on any village by-way.
They were, well, verboten on the roads of our village, but here I just told you I saw them. There they were, rolling down the road in the 4th of July parade that year, almost flaunting the city fathers, if not being just outright confrontational. They were the sauciest of the whole bunch that year, they and that little girl wearing the brown paper bag. What better way I thought to celebrate independence.