I LOVE A PARADE
by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Something about a parade makes me cry and I don't know why.
Is it the visible pride on the faces of the marchers? The private skills and determination they put on public display? What makes those tears of happiness well up in my eyes and my hand grope for yet another tissue?
Saturday, the third annual Strolling of the Heifers parade in Brattleboro, Vt. - part of a weekend-long festival celebrating farmers, agriculture and, especially, dairy products - had me virtually bawling in the streets.
It began as soon as I hit Main Street and came across the Pandemonium Steel Band from the Sharon Academy - a bunch of steel drums grooving to the catchy beat of an electric bass and drums. The sound was really good, but why should I get teary?
Then I noticed a large cloud of Holstein-like balloons floating my way. A woman thrust one into my hand. It was unexpected - who gets anything for free these days? - and I let the cord go. The balloon flew up into a tree and she handed me another. It tugged in my hand, wanting to be free, so I tied it to the strap of my pocketbook and reached for another tissue.
People who are proud to be silly at parades bring tears to my eyes. The first person I passed wearing a head-to-toe cow costume was Carol McManus of Brattleboro. She bought the outfit at Wal-Mart especially for the day, she said, "Because today's about cows and it's fun."
More tears flowed when I passed a band of Peruvian musicians from Maine playing a haunting "La Bamba" on churango, pipes and guitar. Their ponchos were garish, but their music was as unexpected as it was lovely. Another tissue crumpled in my hand.
I drifted down to the staging area, passing Adivasi, our local Indian import store, which was taking advantage of the celebration to have it's annual "Holy Cow" celebration and sale. A group of cheerful banners featuring decorated Brahmin cows was right in keeping with the real cows down the street.
These were flower-bedecked, coddled cows which had been brushed and groom to shining perfection. Mooing, lowing and foaming, they began the march. A little girl named Madeline warned her large Brown Swiss, Vanilla, "Don't step on my toes." And a solicitous adult told a boy with a recalcitrant Holstein calf, "Daniel, you need to push."
I wiped away more tears when I encountered a group of little children proudly marching with silvery fish on sticks. Then I passed the woman responsible for it all, the creator of the Stroll, Orly Munzing. I asked her how she felt. "I'm totally elated," she said with a huge grin and not a sign of tears. "I'm so excited I didn't sleep the whole night. I'm high on heifers!"
As the parade reached Main Street, cheers and applause rose from the crowd in front of Sam's Outdoor Outfitters and another of my tissues bit the dust.
It was definitely a parade for and about livestock. It featured about 75 cows, a two-humped camel, two baby water buffalo, two recently sheered elegant brown alpacas, an enormous pair of white yoked oxen, and, of all things, a yak. None of them made me cry, though. My tears seemed to be reserved for people.
Vermont's favorite politician, Independent Representative Bernie Sanders, drew cheers and applause as he went past. Corporate politics were on the march, too: C&S Wholesale Grocers, Inc., Key Bank, Home Depot (with a banner saying, "A proud supporter of our community." Which one is "our community," exactly, Home Depot, since you're also in neighboring Keene, N.H. and Greenfield, Mass.?), and Walgreens, which has recently moved to town in an attempt to bankrupt of several local pharmacies.
When the American Legion Post 5 Brattleboro color guard and marching band came by playing "Hey, Look Me Over," I started bawling. Then the Dummerston Marching Band came by. Hey, that's my town! We have a band? That's wonderful! By then I was almost out of tissues.
A group of antique tractors went by, reminding me of Fred Eaglesmith's sad song about his father forced to sell the old John Deere and give up farming.
Who knew you could use the term "daredevils" for young female jump-ropers and unicyclists? More tears. And then the Kurn Hattin Homes Marching Band went past playing "You're a Grand Old Flag."
All along the parade route I ran into people I knew, and I made a point of talking about my tears. Most agreed that parades had that effect on them, but no one was able to say why.
After the parade I headed for the common, where a huge dairy festival was taking place. Ahead of me, the streets and lawns were packed with people and balloons - 25,000 people on a Saturday in tiny Brattleboro! I cried out of sheer civic pride.
I only saw one political commentary all day. It was something about Pres. Bush and Sen. Kerry and skulls, crossbones and death. Nothing could have been unwelcome or out of place.
All told, Kim Nace of Brattleboro seemed to have the best handle on why people cry at parades. "People are together," she said, "and people never get together anymore. They're celebrating, and they don't even know why they're celebrating. They're just glad to be alive."
I think she's right. We're living in one of those "interesting" times that the old Chinese proverb warns us against. The center cannot hold - in fact, it has disappeared. Even gravity seems to be slipping. Picking out the truth from all the lies has become a full-time industry. We desperately need to come together as a nation, but the possibility is quickly slip-sliding away.
It's hard to imagine something that could make the entire country celebrate together, but I'll bet it could be a parade. Imagine, all the many millions of us, bawling with happiness and pride. Until that day, count me as one of the many people on Saturday whose eyes were filled with tears at the sheer joy of being alive.
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.