After marching for over 35 years with a marching band on the 4th of July, marching with a non-musical group seemed strange; I didn’t quite know what to do with myself.
The memo we received from our local Tea Party Group instructed us not to wear tee shirts with slogans; only plain red, white or blue tee shirts. Well who owns a plain tee shirt, except guys? Anyway, it was a bit chilly out and the weather map showed a big blob of rain headed our way, just in time for about the end of the parade. No way was I going to put on my Molly Pitcher costume. Maybe next year.
I put on jeans and a light blue shirt and brought with me a light rain jacket, an umbrella, and of course, my American flag. If they told me I couldn’t carry my American flag, then I was determined I would go home or travel over a few towns where my friend was playing tuba with a float band.
When I arrived at the line-up, everyone was wearing patriotic tee shirts. I was the only oddball dressed in “street clothes.” I could have been any of the many spectators. I was miffed but I figured I was also the only one honoring the U.S. Flag Code, which states that one should not wear the American flag as an article of clothing, nor as a receptacle for food, a napkin, or anything else that could be desecrated.
The theme of this town’s Independence Day parade was “Innovation.” All the floats featured various American inventions. The Constitution served as the Tea Party Coalition’s “invention” and featured a globe surrounded by pictures of various Founding Fathers (some of whom we were embarrassed to admit we could not identify).
Congressman Scott Garrett was on hand to represent his district. Garrett is the most Conservative member of the House of Representatives. We were thrilled that he was there and had come to visit our float. Our guest of honor was a Korean War Veteran, and Garrett presented him with a citation.
A young woman and I were discussing Garrett.
“He can certainly tell us all about how Congress really works,” I observed.
He overheard the comment, turned and replied, “Yeah, I can tell you how Congress ‘works.’”
There were two sections to our unit: those who walked and those who rode on the float. I placed myself up with the walkers. But given my plain attired, I remained towards the back. Next to me walked a couple from just over the New York border in Rockland County. She spoke with what sounded like a Dutch accent. She was German; he was Dutch.
Curious about where they’d immigrated from, but not wanting to be rude, I went into interview mode and asked how they’d met.
“It was actually quite a coincidence,” she replied. “We met by accident at a bar in a restaurant. I was there for a wedding with my boyfriend, my father, and my brother. K. came in and asked my father if he could have my telephone number.
“My father said yes and I gave it to him. Well, my boyfriend and my brother weren’t too happy about this and they walked out in a huff. But K. called me and we went on a date, ice skating. It was quite magical. And the rest is, as they say, history.”
Over my career as a reporter, I’ve heard many how-we-met stories. But somehow, that one took the wedding cake. You never know who you’re going to meet on the line of march.
As paraded a long, we got quite an ovation from the crowds. Lots of cheers and numerous thanks from the spectators. We were surprised. Our Tea Party leader had warned us that we shouldn’t expect gratitude from this parade.
As luck would have it, the musical group leading us was a local men’s chorus on a float, singing patriotic tunes. They had an electronic pianist to accompany them. They were just the greatest fun and I had to laugh as the truck swung them around a tight corner (a little too fast, I thought) under the railroad tracks and back up towards the street level. The Flying Patriotic Singers!
Once we came up from under the tracks, we were officially on the east side of the town and the atmosphere changed completely, as from summer to winter. What a chilly reception we now got.
“What’s happened?” my German-American friend asked, looking from side to side. “Everyone was so nice, cheering and clapping for us. Why are they so rude and silent.”
We were on the “wrong side of the tracks,” the Liberal side of town.
While still on the west side of the tracks, I couldn’t help thinking that I was really no different from the spectators, no differently dressed and no differently minded, judging by their positive reactions. I had the strange notion that either I should sit down with them or they should get up and walk with us.
But that would have left the poor Waldwick Band (the last band at the very end of the parade) with no one to cheer them on. If I knew where my car was – it was now after the parade, and while I wasn’t soaked like my fellow Tea Partiers, who hadn’t checked the weather forecast, I was very lost and had no idea where I was – I’d have grabbed my orchestra bells and joined them on their float. A drummer friend was with them. At least their float was covered (it was now pouring rain).
Eventually, I found my car after a respite in a coffee and doughnut shop. I don’t know if this is the first time I’ll march with the Tea Party – or the last. How many more Independence Days will we honestly be able to celebrate before we come to the realization that we’re no longer free?
How long before we realize that we can’t sing “God Bless America” in good conscience, or if we do, whether God will hear our prayer?