Friday, July 17, 2009

Scenes from Silver Creek: The Parade

Every spring Silver Creek celebrated it’s terminal small-townness with “The Pansy Parade.” Of course now it’s turned into much eye-rolling and references to gay pride, but back in the 60s it meant just flowers. It was a kids-only parade, with the exception of the high school marching band and Mr. Grovner’s antique fire engine that he pulled out on any occasion even remotely appropriate for such a vehicle. And a few occasions where the vehicle was highly inappropriate.

The Pansy Parade featured a bunch of mortified kids riding bikes of pulling smaller siblings in wagons, all covered in flowers. Sort of a juvenile Rose Parade. Mothers all over town would spend hours raiding their gardens and the local hillsides for colorful blooms to turn banana-seated Schwinns and dented Red Fliers into mini monuments to horticultural exaggeration.

And for some reason, us kids were always put into costume. These costumes rarely, if ever, had anything to do with what we were riding or pulling. Usually it was last Halloween’s costume, resurrected with the addition of a flower on the lapel of a clown suit or painted insanely onto the sheet of a small ghost. You’d see a cowboy riding a tricycle covered in pink roses or a black-clad witch, complete with pointed hat, wearing a garland of sweet pea blooms.

Really, the whole thing was ridiculous. But the parents loved it as much as the kids hated it. The only ones who didn’t seem to mind where the really small ones, often pulled in a wagon by mom or dad. They’d happily clap their pudgy hands, pausing occasionally to nap or to try and eat the décor. The dogs didn’t seem to mind either. Somehow it became part of the tradition to braid a collar of dandelions or put a crown of yellow dandelions on Fido’s head.

But anyone over the age of seven had to be forced at gunpoint to take part. The whole town would turn out with their Instamatics to sip watery lemonade and line Union Street, waving tiny American flags and cheering like they were watching the Super Bowl. On the street, boys hung their heads in shame at being draped in daisies; the only consolation being that every other boy was being similarly debased.

Any girl who wasn’t a girly-girl hated this. And any girl who hated flowers, or had allergies, had it worst of all. Sign me up for all three. I loathed being forced to pretend to be a princess when I would have preferred to be dressed as G.I. Joe. And mom would take my bike and, with masking tape applied with such thoroughness that it looked like mummy wrapping, would cover it with these hideous little flowers that were not only creepy, but also made me sneeze incessantly. So there I’d be, in one of my older sister’s hand-me-down dresses and a Cinderella hat made from sheet of construction paper, trying to ride my overloaded bike down a street clogged with miserable kids; my nose as red as a carnation and my mind filled with images of revenge. One day, I told myself, I’d force my parents to cover themselves in leaves and pine needles, dress up like total freaks, and walk slowly down Union Street while all the kids in town snapped photographs and laughed.

Stephen King has nothing on the demon mind of a child forced to do something against her will.

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