July Fourth in our town seemed somber this year. Buried in the facade of its usual silliness, it somehow felt just a wee bit forced in its frivolity. Perhaps the same parade with the same floats year after year has numbed us all. Maybe the economy has blunted the usual patriotic optimism and fervor for everyone. Or, maybe it was just me.
Passing a neighbor on the way down to the park I proclaimed—a little too enthusiastically—that I was ready for hotdogs and beer. Like me, he seemed a bit sad, maybe even lost. Years ago we'd all go and get a prime spot on the sidewalk, beach chairs in hand. Living so close to the main drag, it was something all the neighbors did. But his kids are grown up now, off on their own adventures. He seemed more interested in his gutters than in the parade.
The parade had already started but we went into the park instead. The art fair set up there also looked sad, maybe even meager. There were empty spots, marked off with chalk lines and numbers on the soccer field. You could see where vendors were supposed to be. I spotted a few favorites but many artisans were missing. Sometimes the tide goes way out before it comes in again. Like a deserted beach, the park seemed quiet and exposed. The birds circled overhead. It just seemed like one of those years.
The parade was going by in the distance. We got up closer. A cheerleader in red sequins twirled and threw his baton in the air. The crowd warmed up. Sensing the attention he twirled once again. We all smiled. "Only in America," I said to myself. A young boy asked the baton twirler how long he'd been twirling. Not a young man, the cheerleader remarked that his skill got him through college. The young boy seemed impressed. We all cheered again.
A float with a princess atop floated by. Why she was dressed as a princess was a mystery—maybe she just wanted to wear a costume on this given day, a princess with flags all around her. Not totally clear with the concept, we clapped anyway. I made a photo.
A serious-looking boy was selling cotton candy. A young child looked up at him, intensely interested in his packages of pink and blue. I instantly recalled summers past, all the parades and carnivals and boardwalks of my youth. The smell of burnt sugar filled my nose. I thought back to the men in t-shirts who would make cotton candy at the county fair, their arms deep in giant tubs. I wondered it the stuff were still made that way or if it all came from a factory in China now.
Two hotdogs later, we walked home. The neighbor was still there, still fussing with his gutters. "Did you get a hotdog?" he asked. "Two!" I replied. I walked up the stairs, thinking how many parades I'd seen in our town and feeling pretty fortunate for all of them, the lean years and the fat ones, too.