If you haven’t nearly lost an eye to a Dum-Dum sucker tossed by an aggressive peewee cheerleader off the bed of a Corn Pro trailer, you obviously have never been to a small-town parade.
I willingly and of my own volition moved a distance from my own adorable hometown to live near another equally adorable hometown. Some people are drawn to big cities; I’m drawn to any place with a gazebo and a routine notice that somebody’s cow got out.
In the decades since moving here, I have grown to love this little slice of Mayberry meets Normal Rockwell’s America with a dollop of Hallmark movie on top.
One of the highlights of the entire area is the “Street Fair.” It’s smaller than the mega-sized county fair nearby, yet somehow seems even more popular.
It is, as the name implies, a collection of food, games and amusement park rides set up along Main Street for a few days. “The Parade” — always spoken in capital letters as if there could be no other — is the kick-off event. It’s held on a Thursday evening right at supper time, because of course it is.
Local townships and village councils will reschedule standing meeting dates to ensure that everyone can attend. One does not skip The Parade.
Lawn chairs show up early, sometimes as placeholders. One does not dare touch another person’s carefully placed lawn chair. It is assumed that chair is for an elderly grandparent or similar person in need. Do you want to be the one that makes Mee-Maw stand for the entire parade? No, you do not.
Wagons and strollers hold sticky toddlers waving their arms excitedly, long before the parade begins. Neighbors exclaim over and over how they have to “come downtown to see you!” That is me with my neighbors, too. Love them all to bits. Living on acreage, however, means we have to “go to town” (or the hardware store) to run into most of them.
Some park at a friend’s home and walk down to stake out their spot on the parade route. Having a house within walking distance of downtown is a claim to fame for this event. Others will happily hand over a donation to the band boosters or a Cub Scout troop to park in a nearby parking lot.
The festivities begin as you walk toward the route. Hellos and friendly waves abound. We stop to exclaim over the aforementioned babies and toddlers in wagons and strollers. We congratulate on graduations and weddings. We exclaim that it’s “just been forever!”
Even in this relatively tight-knit region, I know there are people I ONLY see at this time of year. We still wave and chat and embrace like best friends. It’s just the vibe in the air.
To be fair, small-town parades are not any kind of major Hollywood production. Ours kicks off with the American Legion veterans with their crisp flags held aloft. They march in perfect cadence, and I see a glimpse of the young soldiers they once were.
High school cheerleaders and flag line march smartly by, their bright smiles brighter than the glitter on their faces. We might glimpse a young lady we knew as a small child, and we can exclaim that it seems impossible that she’s grown enough for high school.
There is, as always, a system to these things: admire, exclaim, repeat.
High school marching bands — more than one since the region has a separate school district seemingly every few miles — set the festive tone.
Fire trucks are polished to a sheen so bright the sun bouncing off them hurts the eyes. They hit the lights and a quick siren every once in a while to the thrill of small children and some adults. I think to myself they are absolutely stunning trucks. Moreso at a parade than at your own house I am certain.
The parade lasts less than an hour, but it absolutely makes the day. It’s so small-town and yet feels so big-hearted. The ability to duck and weave to avoid flying candy? That’s just part of the fun!
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