There is nothing like a good parade to lift our spirits. Financial woes, job worries, health issues and all the daily concerns that bring us down seem to disappear while watching a parade with our family.
As fall arrives, take heart. Lemonade stands may close for the season, yet something bigger than back to school is on the horizon. Look past packing lunches, loading book bags, waving to school buses and way beyond leaf raking. Autumn brings more temperate weather and the kickoff of parade season! Get ready for the annual high school and college homecoming parades. Later in the season a variety of special holiday parades are televised. Think about it! Parades cover the spectrum from extravaganzas such as Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade with sophisticated, giant balloons and the Tournament of Roses Parade with flower adorned floats, to a wonderfully uncomplicated Christmas parade sponsored by the local fire department. How can you top bundling up the kids, fixing a thermos of cocoa, and braving the elements to watch baton twirlers, a local high school band and jolly Santa arriving on a fire truck? There is no way to know when, where or why the first parade took place. For as long as people have wanted to celebrate, support, commemorate or protest they've had parades. Maybe it all began with a parade of ancient hunters coming home with enough game to feed the entire village. Just imagine the commentary from the parade watchers. "Look at that long tusked, hairy whatever. It takes three guys to drag it!" or "Yum - good eats!" or "Wow, I can hardly wait for my hunk of that wooly mammoth." From ancient to modern times around the world in countries large and small, folks wave flags, cheer the marching bands and have parades to commemorate victories, to show strength or to pay tribute to newly inaugurated leaders or champion athletes. Every four years we enjoy viewing the parade of Olympic athletes dressed in their homeland costumes as they participate in the opening and closing ceremonies. My town was caught up in a flurry of Olympic excitement the year the Winter Olympic Games were held in Lake Placid, N.Y. Word came that the route of the Olympic Flame included our historic town of Yorktown, Va. Many parents believed seeing the Olympic flame would be the opportunity of a lifetime for their children. With the help of the parks and recreation department, parents and youth coaches organized a parade along the main street with the final destination of Yorktown Victory Monument where the flame would be passed to the next torch bearer. Our local fife and drum corps provided the music. (Although it was much too cold for the fifers, the drummers kept the marching magic going - It was easy to see how the drummers could rally the spirits of our ragtag soldiers during the American Revolution.)
The charm of this parade was that the majority of marchers were children. The bitterly cold weather did not deter the kids from wearing their sports jerseys over layers of insulated underwear. There were rosy cheek gymnasts, swimmers, soccer players, baseball players and mighty-mite football players marching along penguin style to the cadence of the drums. Sadly, no one seems to recall the Olympic athlete who carried the flame though town, yet many remember getting out of school that snowy day long ago to march in the parade. At the small local elementary school my kids attended there was a parade-loving librarian. Whenever she or the students came up with an interesting topic or fun occasion, she encouraged the kids to create literature-based parades. Regardless of the theme, Black History Month parade, stuffed animal parade or a storybook characters parade she used discrete teaching strategies. She motivated the kids to do extra reading, stimulated their creativity, and at the same time extracted good behavior. Teachers were thrilled to have students become more enthusiastic readers. Parents looked forward to the parades. Word spread and sometimes the students were invited to bring their parades to a nearby assisted living community. Although my children no longer live at home, I am not out of the parade loop. There was much knocking on my front door the other day. Several bright-eyed, excited kids came to invite me to the All Wheels Back-to-School Parade, which is tentatively scheduled for Labor Day afternoon on my street. The only requirement to participate in this parade is wheels. It could be a bike, a tricycle, a skateboard, a doll carriage, a stroller or roller skates. Of course, bike and helmet decorating is desirable but not required. My visitors were about to burst with big news. They invited Mr. Al and his little dog Taffy to be in the All Wheels Back-to-School Parade. Every day, rain or shine, Mr. Al, a widower, and Taffy walked around the block. He had a great relationship with the kids, and then came his stroke about a year ago. For a long time no on saw Mr. Al and Taffy.
Madison School students in Wheeling participate in an Easter bonnet parade.
On the first nice spring day there was Mr. Al tooling around the block in a cool motorized wheel chair with Taffy trotting beside him. The kids trail him like he is the pied piper. Bless him, not only did he accept the parade invitation, but he has also invited the kids to help decorate his chair. As the kids left my house they told me there may be a bit of a power struggle among the girls over making the bow for Taffy's collar. This is one parade I don't want to miss. If you need further persuasion that parades are therapeutic, think about the endless rainy Saturdays as fall moves into winter. The kids need outside exercise before they become indoor pit vipers. Strike up the band and be the parade! An umbrella toting, puddle stomping parade awaits right outside your door.
- Heidi Maness Hartwiger, a Wheeling native, is a writer, teacher and storyteller. She is the author of two books, "All Join Hands: The Forgotten Art of Playing With Children" and "A Gift of Herbs." She is a mother of four and a grandmother of five.