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June Mathews column: Planning for parade sparks memories

By June Mathews

For The Tribune

When most people think of November, they think of colorful fall foliage, football parties, and massively over-filling Thanksgiving feasts.

Here in the South, we finally get to wear socks and sweats, and if we’re lucky, we’ll get to make use of the fireplace before the month is over. (All else failing, we’ll turn up the air conditioner and switch on the log lighter anyway.)

But if you work for the local chamber of commerce like I do, November is the beginning of a long and often hectic season of preparation for the local Christmas parade. From the time we collect the first entry fees in late summer (yes, people sign up that early) until we see the last float glide past the viewing stand the second Saturday in December, the chamber office is Parade Central, and those of us who work there can do nothing but roll with whatever parade-related punches each day brings.

Maybe now would be a good time to confess that before landing in the thick of the parade-planning process, I had no clue as to what it took to pull a parade together. I figured all you did was tell everybody where to line up then let the driver of the firetruck at the front of the parade know when to go, and that was about it. No big deal, right?

But there’s a whole lot more to organizing a parade than that, and I’m almost ashamed to admit I was once so naïve. I won’t go into detail, but if you’ve ever tried herding a bunch of cats and lining them up for a semi-organized walk down Main Street, you’ve got a fair idea of how much work I’m talking about.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love a parade. Ever since Mrs. Satterwhite loaded her second-grade Bluebird troop into her Volkswagen van and hauled us to downtown Birmingham for the 1964 Veterans Day Parade, I’ve been hooked. I watched in rapt wonder as all manner of floats, uniformed military personnel and marching bands moved down the street, and I could barely focus on what was passing in front of me for eagerly anticipating what was coming next.

It was a long parade – especially compared to my previous parade experience in a ragtag line of station wagons driven by moms while all of us kids hung out the windows, waving homemade posters inviting everybody to Vacation Bible School at the Baptist church. But I was still disappointed when Mrs. Satterwhite said, “Okay, girls, it’s over. Let’s go home.”

A decade later, I thought I’d surely died and gone to Heaven when the high school band was invited to march in the Veterans Day Parade, and as a member of the dance team, I’d be going, too. But as luck would have it, the day of the parade was a dreary, drizzly mess so my hairdo, on what was supposed to be a grand occasion, left a lot to be desired. Talk about feeling like someone had rained on my parade.

But not even that experience could permanently dampen my enthusiasm for parades. And neither can the drama associated with planning the local Christmas parade. In fact, once every float, marching band, beauty queen, and firetruck is on the move, I’ll hop into whatever vehicle my husband is driving and ride along.

That’s because I believe if there’s anything better than watching a parade, it’s riding in it. But don’t be surprised if you see me hanging out the window, waving a homemade poster inviting everybody to Vacation Bible School at the Baptist church. I know it’s not exactly the right time of year for it, but old habits die hard, you know.

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