My paternal grandmother lived in town, and that was exciting to me as a child. I grew up on a farm with visions of big-city skylines in my head; Whitewater, Wisconsin, did not qualify, but I considered it a step in the right direction.
The excitement there was the 4th of July parade. As I remember, it began on Main Street and turned down North Franklin street to the city park. Grandma lived on North Franklin Street.
I remember the joy of swinging back and forth on Grandma's front porch glider and admiring the passing bands and floats and marchers, feeling patriotic, and always munching on some snacks that my plump body surely didn't need.
As I look back, I realize that it wasn't much of a parade by today's standards. The "floats" began as farm wagons, trucks, cars, and even children's wagons, and the bands sometimes played out of tune. Still, the parade spirit was there. I loved the flags and the excitement.
As I recall, I've participated in only three or four parades during my lifetime. In those days on Grandma's porch, I dreamed of parading as an honored celebrity or Grand Marshal, but of course it never happened. In Whitewater, I wore an ill-fitting purple band uniform, played my clarinet, and marched with our fledgling high school marching band once or twice. Ours was the smaller of the town's two high schools, and as I remember, the larger one had a bigger, better band. I once rode on a farm wagon-based float that proclaimed "Education Reflects the Spirit of Liberty" on the side and featured an old-fashioned mirrored "crystal ball," dance hall style, in the center.
At Luther College, I remember riding on a homecoming parade float in a fancy new yellow gown. It rained that day, and what I remember best is that the dress was ruined by run-off from the blue crepe paper decorating the float. My parents were in the crowd to observe this spectacle. I can't remember either the theme of the float or the sponsoring organization, but it may have been either the drama group or the literary society.
Today, I enjoy parades vicariously on TV. I admire the flowers and the beauty of the Rose Bowl Parade floats, the hype and variety of the New York Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, and the marching politicians, commercialism, and enthusiasm of Chicago's many big parades.
Still, no parade quite provides the excitement of being "downtown" on Grandma's small-town front porch, swinging back and forth and eating. That experience was a generator of big dreams.
Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne
July 6 postscript:
I just found pictures of this year's parade in Whitewater, Wisconsin! It appears that things have not changed as much as I imagined. To take a look, go to http://www.whitewaterbanner.com/