So there I am, at my by-now-well-worn post on the corner next to the Post Office and the In-And-Out Minit Mart, waiting for the parade to pass by. It’s the “Noize Parade” this time, but you’d never know it from the deserted street. The street is deserted, except for a couple loiterers behind the Minit Mart and me.
I learned about this parade, and that The Boy was in it, after football practice tonight–half an hour before he was supposed to be at the skate park, next to the Congregational Church. I know there’s a parade because when I dropped him off at the skate park the street was full of screaming, waving kids dressed in blue, green, orange, or purple, many painted and dyed to match. The Boy tells me the colors are class-linked; he is to wear purple. He wore the only purple shirt he has to football practice, and there’s no time to go home and change, anyway. I resign myself to fact that he will be in the parade just as he finished the last tackling exercise at football practice. I drop him off, ease my way through the peacock-bright, howling kids and take back streets to my Parade Post.
I take back streets, but it’s really not necessary–the putative parade route is still deserted, its sidewalks empty, nary a barricade or sign in the gathering autumn dark. The Boy has told me that the parade will end at Shockman Field, where our town football teams play home games. I have no idea how they will get from the skate park to Shockman Field, but my Parade Post is on the corner where Freewater’s Main Street turns onto Broadway for a block before becoming Milton’s Main Street. I figure no matter what route they take they’ll have to pass by here. But I am not certain, so the dark deserted, unbarricaded street is a little troubling.
I get out of my car and lean against the fender, wrapping my arms around me against the evening chill. The street lights are off. I can hardly see the loiterers anymore. A couple comes out of their house and sits on the stone wall across the street from me. A Suburban comes squealing into the Minit Mart parking lot and pulls up behind my parked car. The engine cuts abruptly and the silence rushes in to fill the void it leaves.
Its doors open and people spill out. Somebody lifts a baby out and stands, bouncing it gently, while somebody else opens an umbrella stroller. The baby holder fishes in the Suburban again and comes out with a fluffy pink blanket. He wraps the baby in the blanket, leans down, and buckles it into the umbrella stroller. They take up the Parade Post next to mine, right on the corner, and stand, laughing and talking, in the gloom.
And that’s the signal. Passing cars begin to honk. More people straggle out of their houses. A few have painted their faces. We each stand, little islands on the dark sidewalk. I abandon my car for a rock wall a little further up the street. I have just gotten myself nicely settled when I hear it, a distant roar, punctuated with screams. I listen to the noise, and think of The Boy, and smile. The street stretches dark and silent before me, but in the distance I can hear the noise.
Cars still pass and I realize that this parade is apparently on that happens without closing the street. I settle more comfortably on my rock wall, and look at the dim figures down the sidewalk and listen to the noise building out of sight beyond the curve in the dark street. About the time I start to be able to pick out football cheers in the random screaming the trees at the corner of the street develop strobing red and blue haloes, and then the lights come on, and the police car leading the parade rounds the corner, lights flashing.
A flatbed field truck (I know it’s a field truck because its exhaust pipes and manifolds have been re-routed to run up the side of the truck, rather than under it–a fire precaution) follows. The rancher has added a few straw bales for seating and I see shadowy silhouettes of what seem to be women. They are not screaming to any great degree, but it hardly matters, because by now more farm trucks and pickups with RV trailers have rounded the corner, and each is loaded with screaming, waving, jumping kids. The first “float” is the freshman class. If the farmer provided them straw seating it was a futile gesture, because the freshmen are jammed so tightly behind their safety ropes that there would be no room to sit. And they are screaming. Boy, are they screaming, and right in the middle of the mob I see The Boy, a head taller than everybody else, waving his arms, head back, screaming along with everybody else.
And then the freshmen are gone, and the juniors pass, and the sophomores, and then the seniors, and then another police car, lights flashing, and the parade is over. We on the stone walls stand up. The people across the street go back into their house. The people on the corner pick up the baby, collapse the umbrella stroller, jump into their Suburban, and roar off.
I pull out of the now-empty parking lot and drive through deserted back streets while one street over the parade screams on, lights flashing, arms waving, football cheers punctuating the raw, joyful howls.
When Shockman Field comes into view I realize there is a complication–the Central Middle School football team is playing the Baker City team. The stands are nearly empty, but I think of the students, undoubtedly hopped up on Code Red Mountain Dew and school spirit, screaming their way inexorably toward the field.
But it’s too late to change things. I find another parking spot where the road turns to go down the sidestreet to the field’s parking lot. And then it happens again, the strobing lights, the screaming classes, The Boy, waving his arms like the inflated figure our local taco stand had on its roof for a while, screaming, making noise, part of his class and his world in a way I never have been. It occurs to me that, though I have always seen myself as an observer, I have raised a participant.
The trucks pull into the parking lot. The students pour off and pound into the bleachers, still screaming and waving. We in the parking lot follow them more sedately and take our places on the track between the bleachers and the field, where the middle school football game rages on. Our team is winning, and the high school kids take this as yet another reason to shout and jump and roar football cheers. The middle school team, accustomed to playing to nearly empty bleachers, looks confused. I can’t imagine what the Baker team, faced with this enormous outpouring of support for the home team, must feel.
Somebody gets hold of a microphone and things are said, but I am not listening. I am looking at the mass of teenagers from our town, crammed into the bleachers, screaming and waving. I am looking at The Boy, making a joyful noise along with everybody else. I am looking at those of us who are standing on the track, bearing witness to another generation, and and I realize what a gift it is to live in a town where traditions like this survive, where people know each other, where a parade can be nothing more than high school kids on flatbed trucks, making noise, and where the spectators watch not only because these are our children, but because, for some of us, not so very long ago that was us. Mostly I am marveling that, somehow, without meaning to, we have stumbled into a life where we can be part of traditions like this–and where The Boy will simply take them as a matter of course. And I realize how very lucky we are.
But under the gratitude and the pleasure of watching my son becoming a part of the town and its traditions, giving himself over to the sheer joy of being young, and alive, and proud of his school, his class, and his team, there is a wistful little part of me that wonders what it might be like to ride through town on a truck, screaming into the autumn night. I will never know. But now The Boy does, and the sadness fades in the sure knowledge that I am giving him the opportunity to become more than I am, to build memories that I will never fully understand. Because in the end, much as I might wish it were different, my life has made me a spectator–and a good one. His life is making him a participant. And I have helped it happen.