My part of the world has had an unusual amount of press lately with the mind-boggling, stranger-than-fiction escape and re-capture of two murderers from an upper New York state prison, and with our independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who is running for president and attracting huge crowds. The Fourth of July celebrations have only added fuel to the flames with their patriotic parades that have grown ever more crazy and creative.
For the past two decades our family has converged on the Fourth in the small town of Bristol, Vermont, on Pleasant Street where my daughter and husband lived and where the parade traditionally marched through with its bands, floats, clowns, fire engines, and politicians. My daughter would throw together an abundance of brown rice and lentils, greens, and strawberry shortcake, and we’d line up our lawn chairs on the edge of the street for a close-hand view. The kids, too excited to sit, would leap up and down, water pistols in hand to squirt back at the clowns or at the redneck kids on their dairy farm floats for whom the Fourth meant battle. My daughter always had dry shirts ready to throw on her overexcited adolescents.
This year my daughter and family have moved to a small farm in Leicester, Vt and rented out the Pleasant Street house—but the family tradition goes on, and most of us make the trip back to Bristol for one of the oldest and most colorful July Fourth parades in the country.
The 2015 excitement began, as always, with an outhouse race where teams of ingenious pairs, in four suspenseful heats, maneuvered a fabricated, boxy outhouse on castors: one guy pulling in front, one pushing from behind, and one waving at the crowds from his or her triumphant seat on a shiny white toilet. The two inch castors rotated 360 degrees, so that keeping the unit rolling forward was a challenge. One outhouse veered to the right early on, barely missing a photographer–then its cardboard roof and sides blew off. Nonetheless, like the presidential race, the betting was high, the competition keen, and the cheering loud and wild.
Next came the parade of horse-drawn carriages, fire engines, colonial militiamen in tricorn hats, exploding their ancient muskets; the Bristol Band tooting away on a red and white be-ribboned flatbed; a fat, straggly-haired clown equipped with drum, horns, bells, whistle and sticks to smack the dinger on his head; the Monster buggies from the Freemason Shriners zooming in and out of the road, their drivers tossing candy to our kids; and Bristol’s own horse-drawn trash disposal cart, with its driver stopping every few feet to scoop up the poop into a plastic bag.
Then a shout: “Here comes Bernie!” But no–it’s not Senator Sanders but old Harold Allen from up in Lincoln, with a white wig, red striped tie, one arm gesticulating wildly as the real Bernie would do to make a point. And behind the impersonator a band of buzzing membranophone kazoos blasted through, with a happy-go-lucky dancing gaggle of folks shouting “Bernie! Bernie!”
Then to my amazement: my two young granddaughters appeared among the Kazooers, bearing a huge placard touting BERNIE FOR PRESIDENT! The girls were obviously thrilled to be part of the spectacle, forgetting no doubt, that Bernie himself was not with them. For Bernie, someone called out, was marching in Iowa that day, with even louder crowds trumpeting in his ears. “Bernie tells the truth,” these fans allege: this middle class fellow whose immigrant dad came to Brooklyn from Poland, penniless at age 17. Plain-speaking, “democrat-socialist” Bernie Sanders who wants only to reverse “the obscene levels” of income and wealth inequality, and who thrives not on the Super Pac like most presidential candidates, but on small, grassroots donations.
Finally the parade wound down, the last fireman drove his big truck back to the starting point, and my dancing granddaughters settled down with family to devour the strawberry shortcake my daughter had brought. The ice cream had pretty much melted, but spirits were soaring and even the youngest of kin were released by their parents to run into town and enjoy a day of freedom—the two syllable word that pretty much summed up the whole day.