COLUMN: Everyone loves a parade

This is my weekly column for the Sunday, July 3, 2011 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Happy Fourth of July! I’ll be taking a break for a couple days to spend time with family.

Everyone loves a parade
By Aaron J. Brown

This weekend brings many ways to celebrate American independence and the founding of what would become a historical rarity, a durable republic. We celebrate our self-determinism and constitutional traditions the way the founders intended, with small explosives and copious amounts of alcohol and/or grilled meat.

Parades go back a long way, before America. The first documented parades occurred 10,000 years ago, rendered in Spanish cave art. Later, some 3,000 years ago, people included parades in religious and military ceremonies. Some 20 years ago I appeared in the Keewatin 4th of July parade with my large, misshapen 12-year-old body poured into an adult sized Donald Duck costume fitted for a teenage girl. They call this progress.

Another year I became a penguin pulling a sign wagon reading “Life, liberty and the pursuit of fish.” When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration, he used “pursuit of happiness” as a more pleasing way of saying “acquisition of property.” One could argue that a penguin’s right to pursue fish is a more legally accurate metaphor. Anyway, that’s the kind of kid I was and my teen years can be explained accordingly.

Later still I appeared in several Independence Day parades for political candidates and causes. This will steel your nerve. Once again I tip my cap to Mr. Jefferson for his introduction of the two-party system when he countered John Adams and the Federalists. You learn quickly when distributing leaflets on behalf of one party that there is a whole group of people in your town who hold you responsible for the decline of our great nation. Jefferson would reassure me, as he did Adams in their old age, that the nation has been dying since its birth. So to, are we all.

The construct of a July 4th parade seems simple enough. A throng of passive observers gather along a town’s main street, waiting to see how their fellow citizens will interpret the American experience. The common bind in this ceremony is the practice of throwing large amounts of inexpensive candy at the children. This is no way a metaphor. Some time around 1977 urban planners realize the only way to maintain small town streets in the future would be to encourage annual distribution of an undesirable, meltable candy that can serve as a pavement bonding agent.

I’m just kidding. The candy is a metaphor for mediocrity.

One thing you learn when you participate in more parades than you watch is that there are two parades in every parade. You have the floats, marching bands and beauty queens. Then you have the young families, pensioners and bar urchins – among others – congregated along the route. As a participant you see, perhaps even interact with hundreds of people along the way. Each of them gets between one and five seconds to accept, reject, lambaste or embrace you.

Invariably you’ll see someone you know but be unable to speak with them. One time in a parade I saw a friend of mine from college who I couldn’t believe was at this parade in a small Iron Range town.

“What are you doing here?” I exclaimed.

“I’m at a parade,” she said from her lawn chair.

I’d have stayed to chat, but parades don’t stop for reunions. This was five years ago and I haven’t seen her since. According to Facebook she’s doing fine, but who knows.

Every soul you pass on the parade route has a story to tell and no time tell it. They’re all looking for something and more often than not what they’re looking for isn’t you. There is a general sense of excitement, punctuated haphazardly by boredom, anticipation and the backfiring of vintage engines. This sea of faces is your community. This sea of faces is your nation. Everyone loves a parade because we’re all part of a bigger parade. Happy Fourth of July!

Aaron J. Brown is a writer and college instructor from the Iron Range. He is the author of the blog and the book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”

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