When I was a boy the annual Fourth of July parade in my hometown started almost in our back yard.
It really started the night before, when what seemed like a band of gypsies and horses camped out on the practice field of the high school across the street. They built fires, cooked out, laughed and played music. Live, acoustic music. I could see the campfires from my bed.
That was just the preliminary.
The morning of the Fourth, those actually in the parade, or helping, would start to line up at the high school, the nearby junior high and the streets around them. By the time the sun was up it was like the circus had come right to our neighborhood. Excitement was palpable in the early morning summer air, and my friends and I would run from “neat” thing to even neater thing. It doesn’t take much to make a kid happy and on the Fourth we were off the charts.
The parade “began” a block away on Center Street, the main drag, where thousands from our town and the hills beyond waited, ready to cheer and wave and put their hands over their hearts when appropriate. It was red-white-blue patriotic, with at least one color guard, but the parade also featured clowns, comical trick vehicles, antique autos, pretty girls, shiny convertibles, Shriners, high school bands, your dentist and lawyer and neighbor playing jazz on a float, politicians, civic clubs, good causes and silly hats. Always at the end all those horses, carrying sun-bronzed men and smiling cowgirls.
I don’t remember veterans being especially honored. They probably were, even if it didn’t get my attention. What I do remember is that just about everyone involved was a World War II vet. That they had served seemed no big deal to my Dad and his friends. My aunts had served too, in different ways, one in uniform. Not to have served would have been more unusual. Those who saw combat didn’t talk about it much, and were modest if they did, though over the years we learned that some of our neighbors were heroes.
The Fourth was a day to enjoy the fruits of earlier sacrifices, to cook on a charcoal grill, eat watermelon, swim, play ball, fish. Watch the kids play. Have a beer in the backyard with friends. Smile. Maybe remember those who didn’t make it back, and be thankful you did. Reflect a bit. But not too much remembrance. This wasn’t Memorial Day, it was the Fourth. Fireworks tonight, too!