People sure love to parade. They like to watch them, be in them, read about em and listen to the marching bands play from blocks away. There's something awfully fun about a bunch of folks getting together to celebrate, almost anything, and go walking down a street. Being a person, I love to parade, too, though it must be acknowledged that my parade history has been fraught with both excitement and a little disaster, at times.
My earliest parade memory stems from 1984ish, when my Mama and Mema took me to watch the Pecan Festival Parade in Albany, GA. Chief Knock-a-Homa was scheduled to be the Grand Marshal and my all-time favorite Atlanta Brave, Dale Murphy, was said to be making an appearance. Like plenty of small Southerners, I was a Braves fan through the rotten years, which, truthfully, was the beginning third of my life.
Excited is not a strong enough word to describe my level of energy for this Pecan Festival parade, as I longed to see the Chief with my own two eyes, but destiny sent us down a detour path. Somehow, somewhere, between Mema's house and the parade route, I managed to be attacked by fire ants. Unfortunately, this was not the first time and to add further misery, I was a tad allergic to them. Most people I know get a small bump when they get stung, but I always developed these quarter sized lumps. No doubt if I had been coming of age in the 90s or 00s, they would've kitted my family out with all the Epi-Pens they could carry.
But there I was, 4 years old, tore up by fireants, and sick over the thought of missing my Braves at the parade. As usual Mema saved the day, making a mad dash into a downtown pharmacy, finding the little green Camphophenique bottle that meant sweet relief, and managing to get me all doctored up in time to see the Chief, catch some candy and ogle at the (perceived) millions of folks in Albany.
Just a few years later, maybe 1988, while in attendance at the Worth County Peanut Festival parade, I managed to have yet another, shall we say, memorable experience. This was a classic small town parade, with candy raining down on the crowd like tiny shrapnel and plenty of bass from the drum line. The very last float, a bit of an homage to the hillbilly type folks, had an animated dog that lifted his leg every few seconds, causing quite the laughing fits among my little group of attendees. Approaching slowly, the float moved into my peripheral vision, just as the dog lifted his leg, and peed all over my face. Astonished would be too kind of a word. I was infuriated and not a little embarrassed, despite realizing that it was just a little water, and a little prank. In following years, I stood well back from that float, determined never to be that kid again.
As a perk of being in 4-H in a small town, I got the privilege of being in a parade or two during the early 90s. I'd never realized that being on the float, a momentary (if cosmically insignificant) star, would be exponentially more enjoyable than watching a parade. Riding on a truck bed covered in crepe paper and farm animal cutouts, being cheered by a whole county, remains high on my list of all time greatest things.
Leaving small town life in 92 and heading off to the big city (that'd be Atlanta), put my parading on hold for a bit. I'm sure we went to the occasional celebration, but I didn't get to participate again til 97, when I drove the float for my Y-Club. Truth be told, driving in a parade ain't that much fun, although I'm sure the Shriners with the tiny cars would disagree.
Throughout my early twenties I attended Christmas parades in North Georgia, watched Thanksgiving parades on TV and even traveled down to Savannah, GA to see the spectacle of St Patrick's Day, celebrated by actual Irish folks. I stood with my Dad, in what passed for cold weather in Montgomery, AL, to watch a Christmas parade, which was made ten times better by the Mayfield people handing out ice cream sandwiches. That's something worth catching. Despite my love of festivity, in all its guises, I yearned to be in a parade and eventually, I got my chance.
One of my best friends in this world hails from a parading family in Pensacola, FL. Down there they celebrate Mardi Gras , with actual Krewes and everything. My first Mardi Gras parade was a revelation (you can read about it here: http://paradepeople.wordpress.com/2012/12/14/a-first-time-for-everything/), creating an instant addict.
Since 2007, I've watched dozens of hours of parading, floated in ten or so, and joined a Krewe myself. Riding along on a bouncing float, music blasting, drinking a cocktail while making it rain with beads, moonpies, stuffed animals and more, is one of the best experiences of my life. Unfortunately, there's been some collateral damage and I'd like to take a moment to remember those that've fallen: the old man I hit in the face with a Double Decker Chocolate Moon Pie; the little kid who got a face full of beads; the snowbirds who were standing way back and looking away when the bouncy balls took em out; and lastly, the woman who begged for the tomahawk, only to have me go all Native American on her, and got it right in the forehead. Just know that your sacrifices have not been in vain; you've made parading possible with this noble gift of yourself; well, mostly of your face.
So continues my love affair with a sprawling celebration, particularly if it involves music, costumes and sweets. In just a few short weeks, you'll once again find me drifting through historic Pensacola, dressed in a shiny tutu and feather boa, having the time of my life. Come on out: I'll throw ya something good.