Whitefish Bay, Wis., has three Fourth of July parades. One of them begins at 11:30 a.m., and it winds its way through the middle of Downtown USA with its small shops and storefronts, and ends at the city park, where games and carnival rides for kids abound. The second parade begins much earlier, when people begin walking, riding their bikes, and pulling wagons filled with young children toward the downtown parade route, anticipation visible on their faces.
We begin our trek about 11, hoping to find a perfect spot, free from really tall people who want to stand in front of me, and close to shade so we can retreat from the sun sporadically if it is too hot. This year, however, we don’t have to worry about shade, because the weather is a balmy 80 degrees, and the sun is pleasant but not too intense.
Sendik’s is the big grocery store in town, and it sits on an entire block, its parking lot free from cars today because the police have cordoned off the streets. Today, as every Fourth of July, Sendik’s has brilliantly set up a food tent, selling brats, Italian sausages, hot dogs, hamburgers, water, and soda pop to hungry and thirsty spectators.
By the time we get to Sendik’s, we have to fight our way through a crush of people lining the sidewalks on both sides of the street and around the corner toward the park. We hit up the hot dog stand, and then we amble over to a spot that looks as if we will be able to see every entry in the parade. This spot is a favorite for kids, because people who participate in the parade throw candy during the entire route. The Fourth of July is probably better than Halloween for some kids as far as candy collection!
Pretty soon, we hear the whistle blow, and the parade starts. We see the people and floats we have come to expect: the Dixieland Jazz band playing “Sweet Georgia Brown,” Uncle Sam on stilts, the gymnastics class and little girls who do back flips and the splits on hot pavement, the Kung Fu class accompanied by some little kids disguised as a Chinese dragon, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee jazz band playing music that causes the crowd to dance, the county sheriff, packing, astride his white steed, and on and on.
Toward the end of the parade, we see my friend from William Jewell, Mark McDonough, who is, like the rest of his band, wearing a kilt and playing the bagpipes. Max whistles loudly and we yell Mark’s name; he looks over, sees us, and waves.
A brief hour after it starts, the parade ends, and we head to Winkie’s, the best store in the world. The upstairs has Hallmark items, unusual gift items, candy, candles, and “stuff.” The downstairs is chock full of kitchen tools and other necessities, some of which I have, and some of which I need — or think I need. We will leave Whitefish Bay this year with something in a shopping bag from Winkie’s, as usual.
We then stroll back to Susie’s house, passing lawn parties already in progress, houses that are decked out with red, white and blue bunting, and sidewalks lined with tiny American flags. We become part of the third parade that day: families returning to their homes, kids laden with candy, parents wearily pushing strollers or pulling wagons decorated with Americana, older people pushing their walkers that are also decorated for the festivities.
We arrive at Susie’s to get ready for the party that afternoon, preparing watermelon salsa and corn/tomato/avocado salad. It’s not a big party — just neighbors and families — but we like those neighbors and their families. This year, we get to meet our newest cousin. Adelaide Hila was born in May, and we’re excited to see her. She has a big sister, Lily, who visited Sedalia when she was a few months old. We look forward to seeing the Pustos and the Kiefers and Brian from across the street, whose Chow Chow Noel looks like a big lion.
Too soon, the day is done, and we drive back to our hotel, seeing fireworks on all sides of the car. Another year has passed, another Fourth of July spent with people we love, and another year of excitement and tradition. Though we feel a little letdown after the day, we know it will be a short time until we can again anticipate Whitefish Bay, the parade, shopping at Winkie’s, and seeing family at a time when it is extra-special to be an American.