When we first moved to Glencoe, I wanted to be a part of the town’s 4th of July parade. I did not know how since we had no social connection to the town at that time. We were not part of any organization since we worked in the city of Chicago and all our affiliations were with the city. Aside from working at a Montessori school, my son Mark, 6, and I spent considerable time commuting to and from the city which left us no time to socialize in our new town.
Carlos, our second son was born in March of 1975. He was four months old by the 4th of July. We dressed him up in his all- white- terry -cloth sleeper with red, white and blue trim on the sleeves and around the neck. We decorated his buggy with a few streamers. Armed with a couple of milk bottles and some diapers, we pushed our entry for the parade to the starting point. Carlos slept through the whole time. Mark was proud pushing his baby brother in the buggy and I was happy that we have made our entry into the new community. We lined up with the last section where parents marched while their pre-schoolers rode their tricycles.
At the end of the parade, we assembled where the floats lined up for judging. Although we did not list ourselves as a float, people peeked at the buggy passenger and smiled saying, “He is so precious.” Carlos slept through the whole thing.
Three years later, I opened my own Montessori School and called it Glencoe Montessori School. I opened its doors in May and thought that participating at the parade would be a good marketing activity. I ordered school T-shirts with the logo for children and adults. I invited friends from Chicago to come with their children for a barbeque and then march at the parade. Twenty families showed up.
My mother designed our float, my father put the different structures in place, the rest of us did the detailed work of papering the float. On the top of our Oldsmobile station wagon, we had a Raggedy Ann doll dressed as a teacher sitting on a plastic chair facing two smaller dolls dressed in Glencoe Montessori T-shirts also sitting on chairs.
The body of the car was draped with paper bird feathers with the two wings along the sides and the head and front of the white bird on the hood. We marched behind our float. Cheers from the crowd swelled as we passed. We had our informal introduction to the community through the parade and we considered our mission accomplished. After the parade, we saved the “bird” for future need.
We continued the tradition of participating in the parade. The following year, a parent lent us his blazer to be used as our float. Since the theme was red, white, and blue, we simply decorated the blazer with streamers, flags and bows of the tricolor. That was a relatively easy preparation.
After housing our school at a rented space in West School for two years, we moved to North School. The theme for the parade was “your neighborhood.” We thought our neighborhood was “honeybees and evergreen trees” (phrase is part of a barbershop song) since there was an abundant growth of evergreen trees and honeybees were around. At this point, the school had purchased a van so we could take the children to the YMCA for swimming lessons. We used the van for our float. Artificial Christmas trees were clustered on the top and the body was decked up with green textured tissue paper interspersed with yellows, oranges and reds to represent flowers. Honeybees made from empty yellow egg cartons were scattered among the flowers. The float looked sweet and lovely. We won honorable mention or the most original – any way we won something.
At the next summer Olympics, the theme was “winning the gold.” I chose our float theme to say “Win the ultimate gold medal, peace through education.” The first part of the statement was spelled out with blue cut-out letters on one side of the van, the second part on the other side. The plan was to insert blue tissue paper into each hole of the chicken wire as background for the white dove to fly above the sky. The dove will be wearing a gold medal. As we feverishly tried to cover the big van with tissue paper, I thought of retrieving our original dove from our first float. Presto, that did it, it covered all the surface we intended to cover and the dove of peace was in place above the sky. We won first prize with this float.
In honor of Glencoe’s 150th anniversary as a village, this historical milestone was chosen as the theme. I thought our float would say, “Glencoe, a town for all seasons.” We built four cardboard houses, one for each season, and painted each one to correspond to the color of a season: white for winter, green for summer, orange for fall and pink for spring. We also attached colored leaves and flowers to correspond with each season. These four houses were placed on top of the van. To streamline the process of covering the body of the van, we draped chicken wire around the van and instead of inserting tissue paper, we inserted twigs of oak trees with leaves which covers a big surface in less time. The plan worked perfectly and the float really looked enchanting. We drove the van to the starting point and parked at our designated spot. When the parade started, our van would not start. The other participants had to go ahead of us. When everyone had marched ahead of us, I made the decision of pushing the van and we still can parade through the town. We did and no one actually knew that the van was being pushed until they see the back of the van with people pushing it. Since we had waved off our entry to the parade earlier, they did not consider our participation as valid even though we pushed the van through the parade route. Oh well, such is life.
All this frantic activity of building a float and marching at the parade ended once I sold the school and moved to Miami. Now I am back watching the parade from the sidelines. I see no floats, no contests for the best float or the group with the biggest number of participants. I see people walking with their dogs, children riding their tricycles, people riding their convertibles, marchers bearing banners to identify their group – these are the entries to the town parade.
I guess things change. Perhaps what kept the spirit alive was one man, Stan Shuman, the self-appointed committee chair who solicited contributions to support the patriotic days events and infused his enthusiasm into the parade. Stan died a few years back and perhaps no one really had the same degree of dedication to keep the spirit alive. Perhaps the crowd has grown apathetic to the small town celebration. As I wandered through the arts and crafts exhibits, I noticed that there were fewer vendors. There was no free lemonade or ice cream or popcorn. There was no sound system to announce the winners since there was no contest.
I took myself to Starbucks and had my chai tea soy latte grande while I read the book published by the Glencoe Historical Society given out during the parade. Near the front cover, I saw pictures of past 4th of July celebrations. These were huge. I wonder whether we will see again floats, neighborhood participations, large crowds lining up along the sidewalk. In a small town such as Glencoe, anything can happen. Any one person with a heart big enough to care to get this town moving as it did before can awaken the spirit once more. The question is, “Who will be the next Stan Shuman?”
Happy 4th of July to everyone. Keep your spirits up and God bless America and the whole world.