Can you hear it? The drums. It’s the band. Here comes the parade! The other night I went into the city for a college homecoming parade. The streets were closed off to vehicular traffic. Sidewalks crowded with spectators. I was sure that many of the spectators had no connection to the college. They were just there to see the parade.
I love parades. But I love almost any kind of spectacle. It has something to do with the bands, the flags, the sights and sounds. Maybe it’s because parades are mostly happy occasions. Celebrations of something. You know, a major victory for a sports team. Like winning the Super Bowl. Or some joyous victory, like winning World War Two and the troops coming home. Astronauts retuning from a moonwalk. Charles Lindberg. Or a holiday.
There are parades on the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Macys welcomes Santa with the Thanksgiving parade. Giant balloons representing cartoon characters floating down the streets of Manhattan. In Philadelphia the New Year is always welcomed by the Mummers Parade. Fantastically costumed string bands, fancies and clowns. It’s a local thing. When I went to college in Washington, DC, no one had any idea what I was talking about.
Memorial Day has to be my favorite holiday parade. Probably because my birthday is May 30. That’s when the holiday was always celebrated before it became one of the “Monday” holidays. My parents always took me to the local parade on my birthday. Until I was ten or twelve I though the whole thing was in honor of me! I don’t think there were any Civil War vets in the parades I remember, but there were Spanish American War vets. And the WWI vets were still far from ancient. The WWII vets were young men, like my dad, as were the Korean vets. Vietnam hadn’t cranked up enough yet to have vets.
There were cars full of these men. All smiling and waving. High school bands marching. Flags flying. And the best part? The tank! Yes, rumbling down the streets of the city was a Sherman tank! I don’t know how they did that without having the treads tear up the streets. I’ll never forget that. Or watching my baby brother sound asleep in his baby carriage while the band marched past in ’64. Maybe I thought the parade was for me, but I knew it was for something other than just cookouts and a day off from work.
I spent twelve years in the Navy. A Supply Corps officer. I’m not necessarily a spit and polish, ramrod straight kind of guy, but I enjoyed the Navy. I was glad to serve, but that patriotism wasn’t what really motivated me to join. It was the uniforms and the parades. The flags. The crossed swords, medals and gun salutes. Probably the wrong reasons, but it was enough for me. Once a week at OCS in Newport, Rhode Island we would do a parade. Pass in Review. We’d march as best we could for a bunch of 90 days wonders. At Supply School in Athens GA we’d have formation every morning, with ranks and columns of uniforms. On the ship we had formal things like a change of command. I remember a Marine Colonel with his full dress uniform on. He looked like a cartoon soldier with a chest just full of medals. What did it cost him to earn those?
The parades I go to nowadays are a lot more fun. Sure, they still have marching bands. And old cars, old tractors, smiling faces. There are decorated floats and candy flying through the air. There are people riding horses, bicycles, unicycles and walking. Costumes galore. Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and cheerleaders. Baton twirlers. Spots teams. And veterans. I’ve never been in one of these parades. My kids have. And my wife has. I just watch now. But I still love a parade, even if there are no tanks.
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