The Randolph Parade, a Hat-Tip to Town Meeting, and Christmas in July

Forrest MacGregor drove 1,000 miles, straight into a heat wave, to attend the Randolph Fourth of July celebration. Here is his report.

For anyone who hasn’t experienced a July Fourth in Vermont, I suggest you revise your plans for next year and get with the program. There’s room for a visitor or two more.

Hospital Hill, the informal and gently condescending name given to my old Randolph neighborhood, also happens to be the elevated ground and collection of Victorian houses behind the hospital. It’s testimony to the Vermont tendency to see obvious things and call them what they are.

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I call Vermont the Make Your Own Fun state. The parade is a great example. It starts out running through Hospital Hill, down Highland Avenue, takes a right on Main Street (perhaps a nod to local conservatives because most things up here are decidedly left) and then down Main Street. 

It’s an event, and Vermonters are loathe to let any event escape participation.  For instance, there’s town meeting, which happens in spring, where everyone has their say.  I learned long ago to listen (unusual for me), because the minute someone says anything, most everyone else has to comment and then rebut.  Only the fact that the rebuttals are limited to once per speaker assures that this recursion terminates.  Still, it’s an event, too, and the new Town Moderator (she has only held the office about 10 years after the prior Town Moderator looked for a willing replacement for about as long) improved it by holding a pre-meeting social coffee hour where politically contrasting folks might share in a common joy of coffee and homemade breakfast and brunch treats and who decorates the stage with her fanciful hat and fascinator before herding all those cats into the music hall for the symphony of democracy. Might be boring to you, but it’s fun to us! After a Vermont winter, you NEED to be around people!

Town Parade is similar, and features a series of vignettes that appear part out of tradition and part out of whimsy. 

The 2018 parade as it proceeds along Highland Avenue toward Main Street.

Opening with flag carriers who are the town’s honored veterans, there is a collection of organizations and entities following who illustrate some truly Vermont themes. There’s a church or two floating by; a group devoted to making sure we give proper honor to the topic of and struggle for peace; several braces of oxen; local politicos (doing cleanup duty for the oxen as a Vermont-specific humorous and good-natured comment on the nature of their work); fire equipment from every local town we can find; businesses who wisely take advantage of a chance for advertising in a land where billboards are outlawed; floats made by families who just want to be in a parade and whose adults need only slight encouragement to be playful.

If you look up “precious” in the dictionary, there should be a picture of Randolph’s parade. I think I’ll bring it up next year at Town Meeting, in fact.  Maybe get the Select Board to write Websters and right this sin of omission!  

Folks you just saw yesterday you see again today and are even better seen today.  They congregate in traditional favored places along the parade route, mingling with the occasional newcomers but especially old-timers and friends, then deviate post-parade to yard parties and barbecues sprinkled along the parade route.

Oddly enough, I thought until just a few years ago that the parade was over when Tail End Charlie (usually the police cruiser) turned the corner down Main Street, but it turns out the entire town shows up for this thing and it keeps going! Downtown, there’s a little reviewing stand, food vendors, a virtual mall parking lot of out-of-towner vehicles that swell the population to a much larger number than usual.

In fact, the town closes off Main Street. It’s not that inconvenient, since the delay is maybe 60 minutes total, and what Vermonter doesn’t have 60 minutes to wait? We are a patient lot. The region is agriculturally rich, and agriculture has always embraced patience. Other than weeds, good stuff in the ground comes with a dose of waiting. In my car, I carry a spare American flag on a small stick in case I ever need to traverse the state on July Fourth, figuring I can just stick it on my hood and join in at the end of the parade, where my patience will be rewarded by polite applause as I pass by waving and smiling.  Mostly, I stay put in town, though, and see all my friends and the community on display.

Forrest MacGregor at the old Three-Bean Café. The Pleasant Street address is now the home of Café Salud.

Around here, the other institution finding a calendar home around the Fourth is the local school play. It is a tradition I can scarcely write about without equal parts of joy and sadness. Always jaw-droppingly astounding, it features every kid the producers can find, and there’s a waterfall of ages ranging from wee to this year’s graduates on stage. The play leads are the kids who have been doing this for a decade or so, and there is always a number or two for a few rows of six-year-olds and thereabouts who have modest chorus parts that give them a place and start the process of growing a new crop of lead actors.    For every kid on stage (and I kid you not there were 50 or 60 this year), there’s an adult or two volunteering behind the scenes in all the common theatre disciplines. I wonder sometimes who is left to see the play!   

This year, the play was White Christmas, a play from the Bing Crosby era featuring a visit to Vermont for snow and romance. It was astounding, as it is all years, but this year was particularly good and full of delicious serendipity. White Christmas features a seasonally inappropriate winter heat wave (of only 79 degrees), a remarkable inverse contrast to our actual 98-degree temperature, coming two months earlier than expected and never welcomed here. Could not have been more Vermonty!

Sadness, you say? What sadness? The kind you get when you realize you are going to outlive your well-loved old dog. These kids are their own slow-speed parade, going from babies held in the arms of parents on the parade route to pre-adults getting ready to turn the corner and head down life’s Main Street and out of my hood maybe forever. And just like the parade, where they will wind up is a mystery to me. I’ve watched them for years now, and while my mind always sees them as the newborn neighbor I originally met, when I see them every year getting a little taller and taking on slightly bigger roles in the play, time becomes my minor enemy. 

My smiles and applause are soon to be left behind, as the neighbor kids proceed into a future where I won’t be in a few years. I watch these plays with the bittersweet certainty of waking up just a little too early in the morning and realizing that the alarm is going to go off soon and this cozy precious time will end.  

But enough of that. Turns out it takes 100 smiles to squeeze out one tear and this year, I’m rich. 

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