Over Easy: For the love of parades

  • Dan Mackie (Courtesy photograph)

For the Valley News
Published: 5/17/2019 10:00:41 PM
Modified: 5/17/2019 10:00:24 PM

I don’t always love a parade, but I usually like them very much. There is nothing quite like the drumbeat of a parade to beat the humdrum of life.

You may have read in the paper recently that the West Lebanon High School Alumni Association has made its last march down Main Street and back up Maple, where a small but spirited crowd saluted alums every Memorial Day weekend. The high school closed in 1961, which set in motion a melancholic time clock. The youngest grads are now well into their 70s.

We appreciated this parade, modest though it was: a small fleet of antique cars, a fire truck or two, a sputtering old farm tractor, the stylings of the Upper Valley Community Band, whose members sensibly ride on a trailer. Some years there was a mobile calliope, and an old car weighted to lift the front end high into the air. A float honored veterans. Shriner clowns buzzed around on itsy-bitsy motorcycles and cars, scaring skittish kids (and adults) who back away from men with painted faces and crazy wigs.

In recent years, children from the elementary school marched too, a gaggle of kids pleased to be meandering down the middle of the street. Nearby was the West Lebanon Lion, the mascot of the old high school, dressed in a full-body yellow-gold suit. On a warm day, I imagined the person inside was wilting.

Often my wife, Dede, urged neighborhood newcomers to come watch the parade. “What parade?” they said. “What high school?” A history lesson was coming their way.

No more, alas, and the Valley News story about parade’s end noted that the alumni parade for the “new” high school, on the other side of town, is also in a bit of a slump. Members of the younger graduating classes, that is, most everyone under 50, aren’t stepping up. Part of the reason, I’m sure, is that many grads in recent decades have moved far away for careers. It may “take a village” to raise a child, but it takes a city to provide a job.

I wish there were more such moments. A couple of years ago I happened to be in Montpelier, where crowds were gathering for a women’s march. It was a serious day, but I could see the delight of the women in gathering together, many holding funny or outrageous signs. They were straight and gay, young and gray; some looked like they were in punk bands, others in book clubs. We are women, they were saying, and we are on the march.

One year, when my kids were little, they rode bikes in the West Lebanon procession; I joined them from the sidelines when I saw them wobbling. It felt quirky to walk and wave to people who didn’t know who I was. My spirits rose, like a balloon. We were celebrating community and motion, the joy of parading.

We Mackies have driven to Hartford, Conn., in recent years for a St. Patrick’s Day parade, to watch my son and his teammates march to promote the Irish sports of hurling and Gaelic football. According to census data, whites are just 30% of the population in Hartford, so Irish-Americans are a minority of a minority. But this year I was cheered to see so many African American and Hispanic children — and adults — wearing gaudy green beads (some blinking) and all manner of green things along the parade route.

When the weather isn’t miserable, we take in the Halloween parade for adults and kids in White River Junction. Its only flaw is that the ghouls and ghosts, and a host of exotic characters, walk by night, when the village isn’t exactly lit up like the Great White Way.

I wish there were contemporary parades for everyone, for the people who deserve recognition: teachers, nurses, beleaguered journalists. Members of the Left-Handed League should march as brothers and sisters, waving strongly from their dominant side.

How about a People and Pugs Parade, or a March of Concerned Citizens? I’d like a Pedestrian Parade down Route 12A, to show drivers that they don’t own the road.

Bring on the Upper Valley Lawn Mowing Enthusiasts, followed by the High-Powered Weed Whackers. Then cyclists, meditators, art majors, taco eaters. And people who can sing the La Marseillaise.

Of course, Introverts United could march silently with their own thoughts. Let the Pushy Car Salesmen push their way to the front. Let the League of Dog-Walkers march and risk pandemonium. Let Upper Valley Game of Thrones Fans lament the dead and carry papier-mache dragons. And People Who Usually Watch Parades From Sidewalks should have their moment in the sun.

It’s fine and dandy to march alone to the beat of a different drummer, but we also need to gather sometimes and march to a common rhythm. When paraders wave at people on the sidewalks, some look back blankly, some even scowl, but most rise to the occasion and wave back.

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.

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