The first Sunday in December is a big day in my home town. Main Street closes down by 10 in the morning; traffic is diverted a mile or so west, and everyone knew that there will be a few spots in town that are pretty much out of reach till after the annual Christmas parade breaks up.
Winter comes early in Michigan, so when I was growing up, Parade Day meant bundling up in snow pants and parkas, with mittens stuffed into pockets. We loaded into the car right after lunch. I’m sure that Mom was more concerned about finding a decent parking spot than finding the perfect vantage point to watch. In the 1960’s and 70’s, stores were closed on Sunday, so there was no thought of combining the parade with lunch out, or even a cup of steaming cup of coffee for the adults in the crowd.
We huddled near the curb as the sound of marching bands approached. West Jr. High wore red. Central Jr. High, where I would attend one day, wore royal blue. We listened, captivated, to eighth graders’ renditions of Jingle Bells and Deck the Halls. When we spotted the big Rochester High School band, we knew that Santa was almost here. Eventually, when a second high school opened on the other side of town, Rochester High still held on to Jingle Bell Rock as its signature parade song.
There were floats of course, built by Rotarians and Jaycees. Clowns tossed candy into the crowd. The Chevy dealer provided Corvette convertibles for the day, so that the mayor could wave to his public and we could all get a glimpse of Miss Rochester. The year I was nine, the Girl Scouts from all over town dressed as Christmas packages and marched in the parade; we poked our heads through holes cut out in gift wrapped moving boxes and practiced our cadence. Left. Left. Left, Right, Left. My knee socks slid down past my heels and bunched up inside my snow boots before we had gone very far.
The VFW marched silent and dignified behind their banner. Everyone recognized that these guys knew what they were doing when they marched.
The grand finale was, of course, Santa high atop his sleigh. Parents took hold of their children’s shoulders and turned their little bodies to be sure they didn’t miss seeing St. Nick’s arrival. “There he is!” the adults shouted. Mittened hands waved, the cold suddenly forgotten. Every child breathed a sigh of relief. Santa was back in town. Christmas itself couldn’t be far behind.
Photo: The Big Bright Light Show, Rochester, MI 2012.www.facebook.com/downtownrochester
<Postscript: Over the years, our little town grew, and so did the parade. Bands from schools in other towns appeared. Newscasters from Detroit showed up to provide parade commentary, just like the hosts on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day event. Every business in town joined in in one way or another. The grain elevator (a throwback to Rochester’s agricultural days that now sells a lot of snowblowers) donated a truck for my son’s Cub Scout pack. They won first prize in the Youth Division. I don’t think there were any prizes at all when I was growing up. There certainly wasn’t any news coverage – not even a PA system to announce the participants. We just knew: we knew who the police chief was, and who directed those marching bands. We knew the scout leaders, the firemen, and the guy who drove the local tow truck. This post is dedicated to those who share the joys of growing up in a small town, putting down roots, and calling it “home.”>