As I child, I participated in summer parades whenever possible. Unlike Halloween, which ignited my mother’s creativity and gave me heartburn, parades allowed us both to go berserk.
The fun began in June with the Lake Shore Homecoming parade. While our friends rode streamer-festooned bicycles into each other, my siblings and I strutted our stuff. In 1950, we presented the “Bray One-Ring Circus”— which many deemed appropriate.
Two cousins dressed as an acrobat and a clown carried the sign, followed by Carolyn as the ringmaster in an old tuxedo, top hat, and crayoned mustache. She also brandished a buggy whip — good thinking on Mom’s part: when the rest of us saw Carolyn’s whip, we lost our fondness for tomfoolery.
Barbara, adorable in a tutu and her Mad-Magazine-Alfred-E-Newman grin, led an ostrich, Bob, by a pink ribbon.
Mom had created an ostrich upper body from paper-mache on a wire frame; it covered Bob to mid-thigh. She glued bird feet of orange felt to his shoes and threatened him with no desert for a week if he made rude noises from inside.
I struggled down the street as a snake charmer with an inner-tube snake twined around my body. The playful serpent had pink polka dots, a lolling red tongue and no muscle control.
Though I employed a variety of sweaty grips to keep it anchored, it slithered here and there, dropped to my ankles, and sent me reeling into Bob the ostrich, who — blind-sided — staggered into his trainer. The second time this happened, Barbara retaliated with several disciplinary kicks to her unruly bird’s ankles, before Carolyn threatened us with her whip.
After the parade, Dad commented that it looked like the snake won.
The Fourth of July parade in Provo, Utah, was a more elegant affair, with beauty queens whose smiles never wavered, marching bands whose majorettes never dropped their batons and floats: Dozens of floats with multi-colored tissue paper stuffed into chicken-wire structures to create wondrous arches and gazeboes, swans and ponies, rainbows and clouds — all adorned with attractive young women and lovable, dimpled children. Glitter hovered.
I never rode on a float. Instead, as part of the junior high band, I marched at the end of the parade, tromping through the droppings of the horseback entries.
One year, Aunt Lois made a home movie of the parade and captured a band sequence which seemed endless each of the 202 times she showed it: There I came, sweating in a voluminous, purple uniform, size XL so the pants would reach my ankles.
I frowned in concentration as I traipsed along, trying to stay in step, maintain correct spacing, and play “Stars and Stripes Forever” on my clarinet. When this proved impossible, I specialized: I concentrated on marching, let my fingers fly willy-nilly, and produced occasional screeches on my clarinet that startled low-flying sparrows.
It was a relief to return to my mother’s jurisdiction for Spanish Fork’s July 24 celebration, which honored the arrival of the Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake valley.
One year, Bob and I paraded with a sign: “Which Twin Has the Toni?” the slogan from a prevalent TV commercial for Toni Home Permanents. The ad featured identical twins, each with gently curling hair. One had an expensive salon treatment; the other used Toni, but which was which?
Mom dressed us alike and topped us with matching blonde wigs she created from mops. Our shoulder-length hair hung in ropes, thoroughly straight.
I spent my half of our $2 prize on 20 Snickers bars.
I no longer participate in parades, but I still enjoy them: Especially the moment when our flag passes by in the hands of veterans or those currently in service.
Every time, I stand straighter, place my hand over my heart and feel tears sting my eyes — so proud am I of our country and the brave people who have defended it.