Sunday, July 6, 2008

One Car Parade

While I’m on the subject of Independence Day…

My dad loved a parade, and on the Fourth of July, we’d start out early to catch the start of the parade in Whiting, then move on to catch the end of the parade in its sister city, East Chicago—or maybe it was the other way around. Anyway. We’d stand, baking in the morning sun, marveling at the floats made of Kleenex and chicken wire, waving at the beautiful girls in their prom dresses and elaborate hair-dos who stood, braced in what looked like big doll stands, smiles plastered on their made-up faces, waving back at us. Motorcycle police skidded down the street, front wheels up, or stood on their seats, their arms spread out in conquering mode. There were clowns tossing candy and bubble gum into the crowd, Shiners driving their silly little cars in zig-zags and circles. There were horses! Military units, marching in strict formation, and in between, convertibles bearing veterans—including one for the oldest surviving veteran of the Spanish American War, a wizened old man who, from the blank expression on his face, might have been propped on a sofa back in the nursing home for all he knew. Still, it was amazing! The Spanish-American War!

What I loved best were the high school bands. I loved the uniforms, the flash of silver instruments in the sun; the girls wearing spangled leotards and white boots with tassles, twirling their batons; the high-stepping drum major in his tall hat, baton raised proudly, whistle in his mouth at the ready…for anything. (One of the many disappointments of high school was the realization that only a complete dork would want to do this.)

I was in absolute heaven when a band stopped and played directly before us; it seemed to me if they’d been marching all this time just to find our family, there on the sidewalk. We seemed exactly like what a family ought to be like at those Fourth of July parades. Ricky Nelson and his family might go to a parade together, I thought. Donna Reed’s family, the Cleavers.

I still love parades—and Indianapolis is blessed with two of the best: the 500 Parade in May and the Circle City Classic parade in October. Better yet, since my husband, Steve, restored a ’55 Chevy, I feel like I’m in a (one-car) parade every time we go out for a drive.

I mean, look at it! How could you not look at it? It’s so shiny and big and…red! Like a huge peppermint candy. And it’s very, very loud.

People stop doing whatever they’re doing to stare at us when we pass by. They pull up next to us at a stoplight, grin, and give us a thumbs-up. Guys of all ages groan in envy. Women of a certain age grow nostalgic. Their first boyfriend had a car like that, they might say—gazing at the gargantuan backseat with a faint smile, maybe thinking of drive-ins. Our grandson, Jake, begs to ride in it. He sits in his car seat, his arm resting on the frame the open window, wearing his HOT ROD MAGAZINE cap that’s just like Steve’s, gazing out at the world going by like a little king. Heidi, our granddaughter, took photography at Y-camp and Steve hired her to do a photo shoot. On a sunny Sunday morning, after chocolate chip pancakes at Perkins, she walked around the car, stopped, stepped back, assessed, clicked. He lifted her to get the engine; she told him how and where to stand for a proud owner photo. He paid her twenty bucks, which she added to her American Girl Doll fund.

I really did love parades when I was a kid, but I could never purely enjoy them. I could never purely enjoy anything. I still can’t, really. It’s my writer’s mind--always at work, always eventually turning toward longing. Always wondering what-if?

On the other hand, I never cease to be fascinated by the connections my mind makes. From the “Declaration of Independence” to parades of my childhood, to the backseat of a ’55 Chevy, to grandchildren, to this quote I love from Garrison Keillor’s Lake Woebegone Days:

“Some luck lies in not getting what you wanted but getting what you have which once you have it you may be smart enough to see is what you would have wanted had you known.”

No comments: