|Rebecca many years ago|
As a child, the 4th of July was all about the nighttime celebration of fireworks. I believe I have before written of watching them from the street corner when I was a boy. At that time, in the 1960’s, the neighborhood was in its infancy. The entire area had been farmland just years before, so the trees were still relatively short. This afforded a much greater view of the sky than is now possible so many decades later. Not far from us was a shopping mall called Eastgate. At that time, a shopping mall was a new invention, so Eastgate did various things to draw attention to itself. Occasionally, a circus would set up on the grounds, the elephants doing the heavy lifting. But on the evening of July 4th each year, it was their pyrotechnic display that captured attention. This show was quite visible from our nearby street corner, and so that evening at dusk the children of the neighborhood would start hauling lawn chairs and blankets and set up on the sidewalk next to our neighbor’s spreading juniper bush. That neighbor, Mrs. Walker, would usually make popcorn or some other snack for us, and sometimes Gilbert, the rough and tumble boy from the other end of the street would come by and tease us with firecrackers tossed in the air in our direction. Finally, when the sky was completely dark, the fireworks began to rise in the southeastern sky. I’m sure they were quite simple and boring by today’s standards, but to a group of kids in the 60’s, they were magical. We would sit transfixed and ooh and ahh and try to guess the next color until the grand finale marked the end of the show. Then my sister and I would bid our goodbyes and make our way back down the street to our own house, where my parents would be waiting on the front porch. That is when we finally got to play with the sparklers my mother had purchased. I can still remember the popping and fizzing sound they made and the smell they gave off as we swung them round to trace figures in the air. No matter how many times my mother would caution me, I would invariably grab a still hot, used sparkler and burn my hand, but it was never anything serious. It was simple, but it was oh so much fun for me, and I counted down the days until July 4th would again roll around.
|Our current home decked out for the 4th|
Once I married and began my career, I moved from the big city to a much smaller community west of Indianapolis called Brownsburg. Each year the town puts on a carnival called the Brownsburg Extravaganza, which is held in the largest of the town’s parks. It runs for a few evenings, climaxing with a fireworks show on the final night. When my children were young, we always made a trip to the fair to walk through the exhibitor’s tent and sign up for some lucky drawing or to stroll the grounds and play the games on the midway. I have lost countless dollars to betting on which color of a hole a small mouse would duck into. We rarely rode any rides, given that my children are strictly not the daredevil type, and it wasn’t long before they outgrew the few, simple “kiddie” rides they were willing to tackle. Most of the time we didn’t even stay for the fireworks, given the late hour at which they were launched. So as they have grown, the Extravaganza has fallen from our itinerary. But one tradition that has persisted, albeit modified through the years, has been the annual parade.
|David and Rebecca ready to head off for the parade|
|VFW color guard|
|Police color guard|
|The motorcylce squad starts the parade|
The Brownsburg 4th of July parade is as purely American as a slice of apple pie. You won’t find elaborate floats in this parade. What you will see are little league baseball teams in the back of pickup trucks, the high school marching band with the new batch of incoming freshman making one of their first public appearances, and many old veterans of WWII, the Korean War and Viet Nam either marching as a color guard or waving from a car window. The police and fire department join in with lights flashing and sirens blaring. There is frequently a clown or two, and you can usually count on one or two equestrian units, as well. Churches always have a large presence with numerous floats and members walking alongside handing out literature or cross-shaped pencils. Local businesses such as insurance agents, heating and cooling companies or water damage repair specialists slap a vinyl sign onto the side of a sports car or pick-up truck and join the procession. The town likes to show off some of its equipment, rolling out a few large trucks and a tractor or two. Local politicians either ride in an open top car waving at the crowd, or if an election is not far off, they’re on their feet pressing the flesh. There is always a group of farmers driving restored antique tractors, just as there is always a group of Corvette aficionados, revving their engines and showing off their sleek, polished cars. I don’t know what the connection is, but you can always count on the Corvette owners to be waiving at the crowd with big Mickey Mouse hands.
|Little ones waiting for their candy|
However, the parade is more than what is rolling down the street; it is the people who come. Beginning an hour or more before the scheduled kick off at the high school, residents are staking out theie positions along the route. They gather on porches, in front yards and along the curb. Many families have claimed their own special spots, and you find them there early each year camped out on their little patch of land. Faces begin to look familiar after just a few 4th of Julys. At various points along the way there are stands selling strawberries and shortcake in order to raise funds for the school band. People usually dress in something patriotic, with red, white and blue the color scheme of the day, and of course flags are in abundance. Some even bring their dogs to mingle with the crowd; although the sudden blast of a fire truck’s siren can send them scrambling.
|The parade in the long stretch before the final turn|
My favorite part of the parade is watching the children. The main function of the parade’s participants is to toss candy to the crowd as they pass. Children stand anxiously by the side of the road with bags in hand. My family has always sat near the end of the route, just where the units make their final turn. There is a long street they must traverse before making that turn, so the parade is heard long before it is seen. Inevitably, there are always a few impatient children who must repeatedly run to the corner and peer down the street before running back to give a breathless update to their parents. When not craning their necks to spot the coming parade, they proudly stand and wave small flags that are handed out in advance by the Lion’s Club. Mothers, proud to show off their little ones, use the occasion to dress their babies and toddlers in their finest patriotic clothes. Hair is curled and fancy, red, white and blue ribbons are attached.
|Always plenty of Uncle Sams and tractors|
We were no different when our children were young. For years my wife would work to find the perfect 4th of July outfit for each child. That morning, we would unload the kids’ wagon that sat in the garage and festoon it with small American flags. Then with my daughter riding in the wagon and my son walking by our side, we would hike into town to claim our little corner. Grinning broadly, both kids would wave at every person in the parade. It drew lots of smiles in return and earned them lots of candy, even though my children never ate much of it. Their father, however, was always more than willing to help.
|Love the old time cars|
My son is now 20 and a college student and my daughter is soon to be 17. No longer does David accompany us, and Rebecca is now a participant each year. A budding thespian, for the past few years she has had a part in the summer musical put on by Theater for Christ. The group uses the parade as an opportunity to introduce the public to that year’s performance and to encourage them to attend. So now it is only my wife and I sitting on the corner, but the feeling of rural Americana in the parade is as strong as ever.
|The Red Hat Society on horseback|
For me, my 4th of July tradition starts even earlier in the morning. Since those early days of walking the kids into town, I have come to appreciate the walk almost more than the parade itself. My wife drives ahead, usually dropping off several of the church group at the parade’s assembly point in the high school parking lot. She is also responsible for bringing the chairs and our refreshments. But for me, the real joy is in setting out on the 30 minute walk into town. This morning, I left with a light drizzle falling. We live in a wooded neighborhood, and as I strolled along the road leading out of it, I marveled at the buffet the birds have planted for themselves along the road. On the left side there are no homes, only telephone wires running overhead. Through the years. as birds have sat on the wires and “recycled” their earlier meals, they have seeded out those plants which now grow below in profusion. There is a thick hedge of honeysuckle interspersed with wild cherry and mulberry trees. Raspberries and blackberries grow below, and wild grapes weave their way through the canopy above. Here and there are scattered the occasional juniper. Some elderberry bushes are present, along with now flowering plants that later will feed the seed eaters. The fingerprints of the birds are all over this hedgerow.
|Parade watchers relaxing out of the rain on their porch|
I soon left my immediate neighborhood and moved into the older, more developed part of town. I walked past the veteran’s memorial which is located in what used to be the small playground behind our first home. Passing this I next came to a pair of neighborhood churches advertising their summer vacation Bible school. I continued my stroll along the aging, broken sidewalks observing the detritus left over from last night’s small scale family fireworks. There were blackened patches of concrete where the spark-emitting, pyrotechnic fountains had been ignited the previous evening, and the spent casings of those canisters along with the paper remnants of exploded firecrackers were piled high. It is the modern day louder, flashier version of my playing with sparklers on the front porch as a boy. Proceeding at a leisurely pace, I got to observe all those things that are lost to me when I usually pass by in the car. I could admire the gardens of my fellow town residents. July is usually a peak time for perennials to bloom, and I saw a large variety of day lilies, purple coneflower, daisies and hostas. I witnessed a nice acanthus plant and a pair of impressive St. John’s Worts growing alongside gorgeous rose bushes. Window boxes dripped with vines and blooms. Many of the houses were festively hung with red, white and blue bunting and flags. It was also an opportunity to look at who has taken time to maintain and improve their property and who has let it lapse into disrepair. The houses along the main road are some of the oldest, and show the architectural detail that sets early construction apart from what we now have, although these were some of the houses in greatest decay. All of this I observed protected from the rain drops by the canopy of the large catalpas and maples that lined my way.
|Flowers and flags|
Little by little, more people joined me on the sidewalk, and eventually I could see the families ahead lining up along the road. My wife was there in our predetermined spot with chairs in place and a small cooler of drinks at her side. Patriotic music played from a speaker at the end of the street where the parade would be officially reviewed. Soon, the police car next to us blocked traffic, sirens sounded and a color guard made up of grey-haired veterans with big bellies and bent backs, presented the flag. From there the parade was as it always is. Mother Nature smiled upon us and the rain gave way to cool, overcast skies. The children scrambled for the candy, the floats passed by and small town America was at its best.
|Flags, flags and more flags|
In July of 1776, my great, great, great, great grandfather, George Fifer, Sr., a 23 year old farmer of German descent, frustrated with his British government and inspired by the recent declaration of the 13 colonies to unite and become an independent country, answered the call to arms and enlisted in the Pennsylvania militia in York County. In July of 1862, nine days after the 4th, my cousin, Joseph Fifer, was seriously wounded at Vicksburg while fighting to preserve the Union. His brother, as well as my great grandfather’s brother, would each die while also fighting to save his country. And my father gave up his youth in the skies of occupied Europe in WWII fighting to preserve Democracy. I think all would be quite happy to stand today and watch that flag pass, and to see those families freely coming together to enjoy this day of independence in the greatest country in the world; a country for which they fought so hard to establish and defend. It is in their honor that we maintain this grand tradition.
Happy July 4th!