Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Tiny Parades (APIWATWOL #8)

#8 in my "A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words Or Less" series. (For a description of how this series works, see Installment #1.)
Parades. Love 'em or hate 'em, but parades are a part of our culture. And believe it or not, the photo to the left, randomly selected for this APIWATWOL installment, is of a parade. Yeah, I know. Pretty pathetic, right? This is what 4th of July looks like in Boulder, CO, where what used to be my second favorite holiday as a kid, is about as exciting as Groundhog Day at any age. In other words, not very.                                                            
My pal Roxy (white shirt, big smile, long hair) invited me (red shirt, slouchy posture, dorky hat) to participate in this not-ready-for-prime-time neighborhood Independence Day parade when our girls were toddlers. I agreed because I'm originally from Wenonah, New Jersey, home to what I still believe is the best damn parade on the planet. As you can see, the participants in this particular parade outnumber the spectators by a 10:1 ratio. I'm still grateful to my late stepdad, John "Pa" Goodenbour, for cutting his usual bike ride short to cheer on Clare as she sat like a lump in the back of my decorated red wagon with no clue about the purpose of the event or the personal significance of July 4th parades in general to her mother (red shirt, slouchy posture, dorky hat).

Until our family moved away when I was 18, I missed being in the Wenonah 4th of July parade only twice. Three times if you count the year I was maybe four years old and utterly exhausted before reaching the halfway point. When I got to Lincoln Avenue and saw Mom on the curb, I dropped out and spent the rest of the parade collecting candy, tossed from the floats and firetrucks. Of course, bailing early meant Dad had to later explain to the judges that I really DID participate in the parade and, as such, deserved my $1 participation "prize."

Dad in the Wenonah July 4th Parade
On the morning of July 4th, everyone--like it or not--was, and still is, awakened by four one-minute siren blasts from the firehouse, where Dad volunteered until his death. That was the kickoff warning for the annual parade, which began at 9 a.m. sharp.  Our town was small. One-square-mile small. So small, in fact, that the parade actually went down Main Street, pulled a  U-turn, and went back up Main Street, passing itself as it went. That way, parade participants  would be sure to have people cheering them on the whole way. Plus, half the town seemed to be in the parade, so the other half of the town was already spread thin in terms of spectatorship.

Until I was 24-year-old, I never realized that a parade passing itself was odd. I distinctly recall the moment of my epiphany. I was in grad school at UCLA and one of my three male roommates had rallied us for the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena at 4 a.m. to ensure good spots along the parade route, which was about five people deep with spectators by the time the parade got underway. Partway through the parade, my bladder demanded attention and I told my roomies I'd be back soon.

"But you might miss the UCLA float," one of them said.

"That's okay," I replied. "I'll see it when the parade comes back from the other direction."

My comment was met with blank stares. Further explanation from me regarding the "fact" that parades make U-turns and pass themselves on their return trips did nothing but evoke expressions of disbelief followed by sidesplitting laughter from Mark, Dean and David. It took quite some time for me to live that one down.
I retold the story of my Parade Shaming in 2011, when I returned to Wenonah, NJ, specifically to participate in the parade as that year's "Hometown Legend." (Remember: this town is so small its annual parade has to pull a U-ey; similarly, the definition of "legend" requires taking some liberties.) It was great fun, but my biggest regret that day was forgetting to secure a Costco-worthy bag of Tootsie Rolls beforehand. As the lead car in the parade, Clare and I were met with the expectant-turned-disappointed looks from kids along the route all awaiting their early-morning sugar rush. My bad.

Susan, Yours Truly, Mischelle, and Andrea
Another great honor with regard to the Wenonah parade occurred in 1974, when me and my cadre of sixth-grade gal-pals won "Best in Parade," which came with a whopping $20 prize. My mom had long since figured out the key to winning Best in Parade, and she shared her insights with her ambitious parade-entering offspring: follow the headlines of the times and create some sort of light-hearted play on words around a hot topic. Not too edgy, not too political, and certainly not mean spirited. Living in Wenonah, after all, was like stepping into a Norman Rockwell painting. Quaint was far more important than cutting edge. In this case, my pals and I did a mash-up of a popular airline ad with Nixon's impending impeachment. A voila--Best in Parade!

Even when times were tough, the parade seemed to offer the perfect escape from the realities of a less-than-perfect life. Just two months after my father's sudden death in a small plane crash in 1968, Mom, now a single-mother with no (paid) job, no college degree, and no savings, rallied her children and put together a Charlie Brown-themed entry. Tim was Charlie Brown, Steph was Lucy, Karen was Linus and I--that little knucklehead in the white bathing cap and sunglasses--was The Red Baron.
Wenonah Parade, 1968. Even the death of one's spouse wasn't a good enough excuse to forgo participation.
While we didn't win Best in Parade, I suspect everyone watching us that day would've liked to award Mom Best Attitude in Parade for her courage in the face of daunting life circumstances. (FYI, these were the same people--friends and neighbors, all of them--who had quietly and graciously taken up a collection for our family when news of Dad's death spread like wild fire through our town.)

The photo above was given to me by Mrs. Sparks when I took a grad school pal to Wenonah with me to experience the magic that is the 4th of July parade. Mrs. Sparks always hosted a brunch following the parade, and her son Don, an old friend from childhood, invited us to join them. Seeing me there, Don's mother felt compelled to pull out her old photo albums and tell me how brave Mom had been during that time. Since then, I've always liked Mrs. Sparks a bit more than I already had for taking the time to share those kind words with me. Even two decades after the fact.

So, yeah, parades. Love 'em or hate 'em, they'll always hold a special place in my heart. Specifically, the Wenonah 4th of July parade.




  2. Thanks for posting, Bob. Fun to see who the others were. And damn, so sad that Squyres family yielded so many slackers, huh? ; )