A hometown celebration like no other


You’ve just got to hand it to those Founding Fathers of ours who had the foresight and good sense to sign the Declaration of Independence on July 4th instead of a day with a less suitable number attached to it, like the 28th of July, or worse, the 27th of July. What can you do with those numbers?

Back home, the Fourth of July was always the most exciting day of the summer, when we had guests in the house and there was the big parade, the cookouts, ball games, boat rides to the island and all the rest of it.

The annual Fourth of July parade down Main Street always dwarfed any other date on our town’s not-too-crowded civic calendar. Someone once said that our parade was the largest Fourth of July parade in the state.

Parade organizers always claimed that work on their annual extravaganza began bright and early the day after the Fourth. They said once one parade was over with and out of the way, planning had to start on next year’s parade.

Some in town used to joke that the most those organizers did at their first meeting on the fifth of July was sit around a big table and pass around a fifth while swapping stories about the Fourth.

Most people in town wouldn’t begin thinking about the big parade until sometime in May. After all, there was so much to do come spring and getting ready for the parade would have to wait its turn.

Letters from the parade committee always went out early in the year when there was still snow on the ground. Follow-up letters always had to be sent in March, April and May to remind local clubs and organizations that their parade application should be mailed in as soon as possible. These letters would go to people who headed up groups like the veterans and the Scouts.

Beginning around April, some early-bird groups would begin work on their floats. Planning meetings were held, a design was eventually agreed to and work would begin. By May, in storage sheds and garages all over town, floats were taking shape.

Some groups would spend lots of time and effort on their floats and re-enact some patriotic scene from our nation’s past.

Not surprisingly, George Washington often figured most prominently in these tableaux. There would be Washington at Valley Forge, Washington crossing the Delaware, Washington in Philadelphia next to the Liberty Bell, smiling and waving, or Washington chopping down his father’s famous cherry tree.

While some groups would produce big, beautiful, elaborate floats, other less-inspired organizations would have something as simple as an old pickup with signs on the side saying, “Happy Birthday America,” and in the back would be two people in colonial costumes sitting at a folding table and occasionally throwing penny candy into the street.

Organizers would meet at the step-off point in front of Willy’s Market after supper on the eve of the parade just to make what they called “final plans.”

The morning of the Fourth, organizers began lining people up at around 8 and the parade would always step off promptly at 10.

By the time organizers got all the members of the American Legion and their auxiliary, VFW and their auxiliary, the DAR, Masons, Knights of Columbus, Volunteer Fire Department and their auxiliary, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Job’s Daughters, CYO, De Molay, the high school, middle school and elementary school bands, the farm team, Babe Ruth and Little League all stretched out there on Main Street, well, there was no one in town left to stand and watch the parade.

The entire population of the town would move together down Main Street and there wasn’t one person on the sidewalks to see it.

John McDonald is the author of six books on Maine, including his latest, “Moose Memoirs and Lobster Tales.” Contact him at mainestoryteller@yahoo.com.