Ed Gebert
Ed Gebert

Every year I watch a handful of parades, live and in-person. Large and small, hang on, let’s make that small and a little less small, these parades are a community event, and a bit of a curious one. In ancient days, parades were generally military affairs, with victorious troops returning from battle being welcomed by an adoring throng. The troops would hear the cheer and accept the salutes of their thankful community.

Certainly there must have been parades for occasions like annual holidays also, but I don’t believe I’ve ever read about such a parade in the olden times. Did the local cobbler decorate his horse with flowers and a sign which advertised his 20 percent off sale on shoe re-soling? I don’t think so.

Did the First Church of Rome put together a mobile display advertising Roman Vacation Bible School and walk it down the Appian Way? I have my doubts. Did every Roman Senator walk the parade route waving, shaking hands, and kissing babies? Alright, probably, if they had an election coming up.

The first parade I can remember participating in was in my hometown. I was probably four or five years-old. My parents dressed me in some kind of western outfit, fixed an arched top to my little red wagon to make it look like a Conestoga wagon, and had me pull the wagon down the parade route with my little sister riding inside. She was wearing some get-up that made her look like a washout from Little House on the Prairie auditions. Townspeople lined the streets… well, except my hometown didn’t have enough people to line the streets with enough leftover to drive tractors, march in the band, or walk and throw candy into the so-called crowd. So it was a less-than-overwhelming reception, even for a five-year-old. But it was all an odd experience. I guess it must be, since I remember a sliver of it nearly half a century later.

Parades are dependent upon certain things: a marching band which hopefully can actually play instruments rather than just carry them, a fleet of farm tractors or garden tractors that can pull a flatbed trailer with assorted people riding, fire trucks with abnormally loud sirens, and a few convertibles to carry a bevy of queens, sitting atop the folded-up roof. Unless you have these items, or acceptable substitutes, there is no parade. No band makes a parade pretty lame. No noisy sirens, no fun. Also no kids with fingers in ears as the noise passes. The tractors and flatbeds can be straight out of the fields or improved and modernized. My kids have been in parades where there was no available tractor and flatbed, so a pickup truck made a good substitute. Hey, riding in the back of an open pickup is a new experience for most kids these days. For me, it was a weekend ritual to get to a job, a picnic, or sometimes even to church on Sunday morning.

When I moved to this area nearly two decades ago, I was surprised that parades here still allowed the throwing of candy into the crowds during the event. The last couple of places I had lived had candy-less parades. It was a safety issue. Some child somewhere must have dashed toward a moving tractor to retrieve an errant Tootsie Pop, and parents must have had some sort of fit. So instead of having parents teach and remind their children not to act like idiots and chase candy into traffic, they just abolished the practice entirely. And realistically, a parade without airborne candy seems worthless. After all, we sit through commercials to see the program. Why should we sit through the parade of farm wagons, fire trucks, old cars and Vacation Bible School promotions and leave the parade empty-handed?

We may not be welcoming back victorious soldiers, fresh from battle, but we do get to welcome and thank those who have served, celebrate the things we have in common as a community and as a nation, and recognize the great things which are an everyday part of our community. And that’s the fun of attending another parade. Well, that and being quick enough to pick up a stray Tootsie Roll.