The Last Parade(and other musings, insights, and anxieties)

This past Saturday my wife and I attended the last local parade that we will feel obligated to attend because we have a child performing in it. It was the Pierceton Days parade, and our 17-year old was marching with the Warsaw High School Marching Band playing the school fight song(which sounds like a lot of other school fight songs if I’m being honest.)

This has been a tradition for many years. I can remember attending the parade in 2015, which would have been our oldest’s last marching band parade before she moved on to greener pastures for her Junior and Senior years of high school at the Indiana Academy. Then in 2019 I went by myself and watched our son march with cymbals strapped to his hands and the sun in his eyes for his inaugural parade performance. It was a pretty hot day, I remember that.

Yesterday marked the final parade march for our son, and for us. Of course there’s a part of me that felt it all to be very bittersweet. In the sense that our “baby boy” is 17 and going into his senior year of high school. I’m sad that there’s a kind of finality to it all. Last parade, last Marching Band season, last Concert Band season, and last Percussion Ensemble. A large chunk our our parenting years was spent sitting in the bleachers of various high school football fields and watching hours of marching band shows. Many times standing along city streets as police cars, fire engines, and local politicians flung stale bubble gum and suckers at us while we waited for the minute and a half when the marching band came by playing that same school fight song(that sounded like a lot of other school fight songs.)

I’m sad that this part of being a parent is slowly(or not so slowly) coming to an end. I’m not sad about the end of those parades, though. The loud locals smoking a foot from me, with their kids and grandkids close by wafting in the Camel Lights haze. Or the family reunions on the sidewalks, talking loudly like they’re in their backyard freely yammering about “this sumbitch” and “that sumbitch”. The shirtless sod with the homemade tattoos of the crucifixion or one that simply says “mom + dad” on a scrawny, flabby chicken arm. Far more American flag t-shirts than there are teeth.

And that’s just the bystanders.

The parade itself is just maddening. Every municipal vehicle in the county blares their horns, flashes their lights, and floods the air with diesel fuel. The Star Spangled Banner is sung by some Carrie Underwood wannabe while the giant red, white, and blue hangs over the main drag by a crane flapping loudly with jingoistic glee. We have to stand thru about 20 minutes of this before there’s even a hint that there are high school bands performing. Even the damn hearse from the local funeral home had flashing lights and a siren. Why would they be in a hurry? There was some old man riding a lawn tractor dragging 6 oil barrels on wheels fashioned into little cockpit seats for children. There were 6 six little kids not any older than 4 or 5 in these kiddie-fashioned death traps. They didn’t look like they were having fun.

Our parade faces

The bands did start to show up near our parade route locale. All the schools involved did a great job, and they all looked extremely warm and ready for it to end as well. Between the wafts of cigarette smoke, BBQ, and corn dog stands I was starting to feel a little woozy. Not to mention that my hearing was wonky thanks to a fleet of fire trucks, ambulances, and police cars blaring their horns with deafening precision. As the WCHS Marching Band made their way to the end of the parade line my wife and I made like bananas and split.

I don’t know if the small town parade was different 40, 50 years ago or not. I just know that even as a kid parades weren’t my jam. I was too awkward and shy to go running out into the street and pick up some Tootsie Rolls laying in an oil stain on Market Street. Plus, I was taught to never run out into the street. I’m a rule follower, not a rule breaker. I really only remember a handful of parades that I went to as a kid. I think most of them were with relatives and not my own parents. They weren’t parade people, either. Large gatherings were saved for family reunions, amusement parks, weddings, and funerals. That was it. Not parades. I had Halloween for filling bags with candy. And the variety and quality was always much better for candy harvests. Parade candy was the kind of candy that you traded off on Halloween for better confections. Or it just laid in that paper grocery bag in the closet for months, to be forgotten or given to grandparents.

While we were at the parade my wife lamented that she couldn’t remember ever taking the kids to a parade when they were little. I told her I had a vague memory of taking them once. Maybe a Memorial Day parade, perhaps? Regardless, I told her our kids were all too much like us in that they never cared for the pomp and circumstance of parades. Too shy and introverted and not willing to run out into a street, risking life and limb, for a root beer-flavored Dum Dums sucker.

With the last parade out of the way we will be heading into the last Marching Band season. It’s been nice having my son at home this summer. At least the couple weeks where he didn’t have band camp. And he worked three days a week at a marina gassing boats, cleaning them for renters, and whatever else they needed him to do. He’d quit his job at the grocery store because it was just kind of chaotic. They never scheduled him when he asked them to and had him working till 10:30pm on school nights. So I was good with him giving his notice. The marina job came out of nowhere. It’s the same marina our oldest has worked at since 2020. They needed someone to cover for the owner’s son who was going to a summer camp for a few weeks. It was good, honest work and kept the boy busy and out of trouble.

But as usual the summer has kind of just flown by. We had no family vacation per say. That comes in October. So it was just kind of a blah summer of a day off here and a day off there. Which I’d think that would make it feel longer, but that wasn’t the case. My only significant amount of time off was spent taking apart the kids old playset in the backyard. It hasn’t really felt like any quality time or memory making moments happened. That kind of bums me out, especially knowing that all the kids are nearly adults and finding their own path, without mom and dad.

I’ve got to figure out what to fill my idle time with. Gotta find a new path or something. Music, books, exercise, painting…these are all things I can fill the void of loneliness with I suppose. I just need to get out of my own way and do it. I’m not lonely a lot, mind you. This has just been an extra busy summer with my wife’s work and the kids doing their things. I seem to be a latchkey parent these days. Leaving in the early morning for work with everyone but the dog asleep, then getting home in the afternoon to an empty house(with the exception of the dog.) My mind tends to browse in nostalgia, which then turns to getting lost in the melancholy.

Gotta fill that time. Gotta get out of my own way. You know what I mean?

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