Are you going to spend part of your July 4 holiday watching a parade? I can honestly say that almost every Independence Day of my life I have either been in one or observed them.
This year will be no different. In fact, I will actually be leading a parade on Wednesday. Every year our lake club has a boat parade, and since I’m president of this organization, I drive the lead boat. I love it; to look behind and see that long line of crafts with streamers flying and family’s laughing and waving as they circle the lake just gives me a thrill.
I got just as big a thrill from parades when I was a kid. Seems like almost every weekend during the summer months, my parents packed all five of us kids, a couple of lawn chairs and some blankets, in the station wagon and we went to a parade. We’d get there early to claim a good spot, and sit back and wait. We even liked watching the last cars drive past before the police drove up and cordoned everything off. Then, just when we thought we couldn’t wait any longer, we’d hear the first blare of a band and look down the street to see a surge of activity advancing toward us.
When I joined the marching band in high school as a tuba player, I went from observing parades to being part of the show. Again, almost every weekend I packed up my big horn, loaded a bus with my fellow musicians and off we’d travel to some berg to perform. We were a good too. Our director, Mr. Davis, was a task master, and he made us practice and march like an army platoon.
We wore tall furry hats with a chin strap, heavy short coats with tails, black nylon pants with a cumberbund and black shoes topped with white spats. We had to memorize our music, and we rehearsed for hours on the football field, perfecting our steps and tunes for these gala events. When we had honed our skills to perfection, we began a circuit that would include a parade almost every Sunday during our summer break.
These parades never got old for me. Once we came to the town where we were going to perform and found our parade position, we unloaded and began preparations for “inspection.” Everything had to be perfect; chin straps just so, spats buffed; coats ironed and straight; and our instruments gleaming and polished. And then, in a scurry, we’d line up into position, ready to march.
I’ll never forget how excited I got at that moment. For a tuba player, parades are the pinnacle of performing, mainly because there are no restrictions on volume. I’ll never forget Mr. Davis walking past us just before we marched off, jabbing his finger at us tubas and proclaiming, “give it a lungful.” The drums are the backbone of a marching band, and their cadence provides pace tempo as well as signifying when to play. And when I heard that particular drum roll and raised that horn to my lips, I let it blow.
The crowd reaction was amazing. People would jump to their feet, clapping and cheering us on. Little kids would march along beside us, and mayors and dignitaries of every caliber would rise from their seats and give us a standing ovation. Suddenly I realized how all our hard work was paying off, and that fact always brought tears to my eyes because we were playing a part in celebrating our country’s freedom.
I can also remember with distinct clarity how good it felt after our performance to put down that big horn, take off my hot furry hat and stifling coat, and then guzzle about a gallon of water.
When I graduated from high school, and took off for college, I thought my marching days were over. But on a whim, I tried out for the UW-Madison marching band, and was accepted. That was a totally unique experience and one I have never forgotten.
When I became a newspaper reporter and photographer, I found myself, once again, street side. Over the years I have attended every parade the Northwoods has to offer, snapping pictures. But I still get a big thrill when I see a band marching proudly down the street. And it doesn’t matter what kind either. I especially love the bands with the bagpipers; how these musicians swing out with their drums pounding loudly and their kilts swaying smartly as they glide along. But I must admit the high school marching bands hold a special place in my heart. I always look particularly close at the tuba players to see if they’re sweating as much as I used to.
Along with parades another favorite part of July 4 for me are the picnics afterwards. Mom used to always make a special cake and decorate it red, white and blue with strawberries and blueberries. I’m offering that this week.
But I’m looking forward to leading the boat parade this July 4. There’ll be no tubas, no hot long marches, but my dog Homey will be on my lap, and I’ll be waving a flag all the way. And they’ll be a flotilla of decorated pontoons and other craft following me, all celebrating what it means to be free. Happy Independence Day!
Fourth of July Cake
1 white cake mix
1 small pkg. cherry Jello
1 container Cool Whip
1 small pkg. vanilla pudding
Mix the cake as the per the directions and bake in a 9×13-inch pan. Let it cool completely then poke small holes all over the cake with a toothpick. Mix Jello as per package instructions and slowly pour over cake. Mix Cool whip with pudding, then spread on cake. Make a “flag” by placing blueberries in one corner lining up the halved berries as stripes. Refrigerate before serving.