Friday, October 31, 2014

All the World Loves a Parade

"to see the world in a grain of sand...." William Blake

"Carthage is a city in Jasper County, Missouri, United States. The population was 14,378 at the 2010 census. It is the county seat of Jasper County and is nicknamed "America's Maple Leaf City."

Bright and early Saturday morning, we find ourselves just west of the courthouse square in Carthage, Missouri. The sun has not yet risen behind the courthouse and the color guards and veterans' floats are in deep and chilly shadow. In front of us is a snazzy old Ford in up to date paint and behind us is the Cabool Marching band, warming up their horns, rocking some fanfares and showing more energy than I would expect considering how early they must have hit the road. Our hosts are putting the finishing touches on their float entries, taping up signs and filling the milk pails of candy that will soon be handed to importuning sweet tooths.
I get the lowdown on this event from one of the locals:

1) the parade will take two and one half hours start to finish.

2) there are more than 300 entries.

3) it always takes place this weekend in October, whether or not the Maple Leaves that are the erstwhile draw cooperate or not.

Then she takes me aside and in an act of infinite courtesy, asks if I'd like to walk over to the Post Office and use the restroom.

If you want a windshield survey of small town America, join a parade. Choose your basic components: a courthouse square, a color guard, a marching band, a grand marshal, a little miss and mister, elected officials and/or candidates more or less, church floats, school floats, local business floats.....and dance academies and emergency vehicles galore. Leaven your parade with any combination of Shriners' entertainment...I particularly enjoy the train, the bandwagon, and especially the calliope. The shortest parade I know of takes place close to home: two blocks south and two blocks west in length, but even it boasts riders of two wheeled and four legged saddles both.
Blake and I knew a vast quantity of sweets had been purchased for this grand event by the more than generous hosts of our float. We were prepared to tear our rotator cuffs to shreds heaving great clutches of candy to the multitudes waiting under the autumnal boughs along the parade route. What a disappointment it was to be admonished by the local authorities NOT to throw candy under any circumstances! The grandma in charge was quite serious about the trouble she might be in should any candy fall onto the ground through the course of the parade. No, the only way for the kids to get their treats was for the gallant young ladies in Official FFA dress to hand it out piecemeal while marching double time with a full 2 1/2 gallon milk bucket behind our pickup and the Farmall M of guests behind us. They made a valiant effort and I dearly hope they escaped without shin splints..
Waving at a crowd of folks you don't know....and who REALLY don't know you is awkward....but watching the parade route go by at 10 miles an hour is great. It was ever so tempting to keep my camera up to one eye for the entire ride, but I would have missed so much! With the accompaniment of the nearest band drifting to us on the breeze, the folks on the porches of the grandest mansions gathered with steaming mugs in hand, looking like nothing so much as small town college gentry. Indeed, there were signs of college allegiance throughout the parade route.....a virtual menagerie of Tigers and Gorillas and Bears..Jayhawks and Wildcats, too. The curbs were crowded with blankets, camp chairs, and strollers of well bundled babies.

As we neared the Middle school, the very first of the marching bands started straggling past us, headed in the opposite direction. We rode back to the beginning of the parade, followed by a convertible containing a tattooed biker, a guy in a University of Northern Iowa sweatshirt and two well coiffed members of the local theater group.
And this is what I love about small towns. If you had seen these four people individually on the streets of Carthage....and I did, before the would never have placed them in the same convertible after the parade. There is a story and one that might surprise folks that have decided rural people are as homogeneous and uninteresting as American cheese. Sure enough, the parade was still rounding the square when we returned to our starting point. Following the Shriners were the ghouls and ghosties promoting their particular Haunted Houses. Then a dance and rhythm group from Kansas City. Then a fellow with his septic tank pumper truck.....with a big pink ribbon on its side and a contribution for breast cancer with every job. A heart felt story in that one.

Finally, fitting as can be for a city on America's Route 66, there are fireworks...or at least a pickup shooting confetti! Big city, no...ticker tape, huh uh...but this heart of America celebration still left plenty for the street sweepers to work with....

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