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Scenes From An American Parade

american-flag

The American Flag

A parade seems a very American thing to me. Partly because I’ve never been anywhere else. But also because it’s hard for me to imagine another country–let’s say Italy just to pick one–where I can get struck on the top of my head with a piece of saltwater taffy as a hearse with www.thecasketman.com emblazoned on its side passes in front of me, bracketed with Irish folk dancing students.

There are over 25,000 people living in Kaysville,m Utah; I would wager that all of them were smashed together on the curbs of 100 North Street yesterday.

We parked several blocks away and, upon exiting the car, were carried downstream on a tide of chattering citizens. Strollers ran over my feet and knocked into my heels, ripping my sandals off more than once.

We were stranded at several different crosswalks while certain cars–surely driven by people who hate America, freedom, and candy–proved their indifference and independence by accelerating one additional mile per hour for each person that stepped into their line of sight.

But eventually we made it to our own little patch of curbside grass, reserved by a a stalwart family member no later than 7 AM that very morning. And so it began.

We sat. Clouds rolled in, took a look, and rolled back out.

We sat. Children screamed, children who had been promised a parade.

“We’re at the end of it,” a sunburned mother told her child. “It’ll get here.” The child threw herself on the ground, just off the sidewalk, and the horrified mother scooped her up with a look of the most dire alarm on her face, as if the parade was not a mile away, but on top of us all.

At last, the sounds of drumming reached us. Sure enough, within minutes a marching band rat-a-tatted by, but they had lost considerable amount of pep and verve during their arduous trek. The effort of maintaining a grip on a clarinet turned one boy’s knuckles white. The four unfortunates manning the tubas looked like they might expire at any moment. The player’s eyes fixed themselves on the ground with steely will. They were immune to our waves and cheers.

They limped around the corner and out of sight, where I presume that those who did not expire immediately were tossed into vats of ice water.

The honor guard presented the flag and everyone removed their hats. It was suddenly quiet in the honking maelstrom, and I felt myself swell up a little as I saw what was coming:

A series of floats bearing veterans. This moved me, as it always does.

There were veterans of the most recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there were also two truckloads of World War II veterans. It put a lump in my throat, I won’t lie. I was suddenly determined to clap louder than anyone else and catch the eye of the heroes. They were shrunken with age but still managed to loom in the middle of all the enjoyable silliness that would be the parade.

I am going to tell myself I succeeded, and these brave, elderly warriors, people who had seen and endured things I will probably never be able to imagine, had eyes only for me.

I do hope they felt appreciated by the crowd. It was a touching moment and well worth attending for. The crowd roared and several people ran up to the trucks to shake hands with the veterans as their vehicles puttered along.

If the veterans were the heroes of the parade, the Casketman (he of the website mentioned above), seemed to be the villain. The screams of delight attending the various dancing studios, clowns, unicyclists, and airborne swarms of candy dried up instantly when the hearse arrived.

We all glared as the specter of death invaded our orgy of patriotism and sweets and cars advertising various credit unions.

I sensed that he could feel it. He waved harder, but to no avail. When he was out of sight, an audible sigh escaped from the crowd. We were all dying, but not this day.

Irish dancers kicked up their heels.

A local theater group dressed as characters from The Wizard of Oz got a decent amount of support, although the Cowardly Lion kept trying to steal the show, laughing too loudly in an abysmal imitation of the Lion from the film.

Despite the inescapable Credit Union vehicles, not once did someone respond to the paint jobs by shouting “Tell me how I can qualify for a low-interest loan!”

Martial artist students broke boards and handed them out as business cards.

Two shirtless young boys who couldn’t have been more than 10 years old showed off their physiques as they walked on the boiling asphalt…on their hands! It was interesting to compare them with the female gymnastics troupes filled with students of comparable age. At that gawky stage where male and female bodies are pretty much shaped the same, these boys had massive, squared off shoulders, and the girls had thick, muscular legs, the better to turn miles of back handsprings down the asphalt with.

More dancing. More marching bands.

A group of young ladies wearing bright golden pants ran about in a dizzying pattern, counting loudly.

“I’ve never heard them do anything but count,” said someone in my party.”They go to all the parades, and all they do is count. I can count.”

A truckload of children from a Bible School waved somberly at us onlookers, and the applause sputtered momentarily.

It had been 90 minutes. I asked aloud how long the parade lasted, and an eavesdropper said that we were about 60 entries into a 90 float parade.

Lightning arced across the sky and it began to sprinkle.This seemed to revitalize the latest incarnation of the school marching band, and the flutists righted their instruments back to 90 degrees with sudden determination.

A young girl jumped on a trampoline in the back of a truck.

No fewer than three costumed humans in dog suits rushed me and made a point of clasping my non-outstretched hand between their itchy paws.

A group of very young girls from a Kaysville spinoff of American Idol took turns singing in the back of their auto, and were all very talented.

Apparently there are several dozen frozen yogurt shops in Kaysville, and they are locked into the bitterest of blood feuds.

By this point I had eaten so much taffy that I was ashamed of myself, but with each passing car I looked up hopefully from the grass where I was lying, hoping that an errant throw would pass near enough so that I could grab and unwrap it without shifting.

By the time we left, I had given up on the local library sponsoring a float and shelling us with copies of The Brothers Karamazov, but the parade seemed to be winding down and it was raining in earnest. For all I know we had just reached intermission.

I saw everything that I associate with America yesterday between the parade and the night’s festivities. Food, noise, commercialism, and lots of things blowing up.

We may be losing a step in some areas, but I have no doubt that America will remain untouchable as the most entertained, loudest, and most overweight nation.

But I love it. I feel fortunate to have been born here, and there is nowhere else I would rather live. I am grateful for my independence.

And I would have given a lot to sit down with those World War II veterans and hear their stories. They were easily the best part of a wonderful holiday.

What did you guys do?

Josh

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