We are lucky to spend our summers in the historic town of Edgartown on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, seven miles off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. We own an old home right in the old village, a few steps away from Main Street, abuzz with activity all day on the nation’s birthday. I put little flags in the planter boxes in front of my house.
Though the parade won’t kick off until 5pm, by noon, the near-by church has set tables on its lawn full of delicious lobster rolls, on sale to benefit its charitable and social justice mission. The neighboring town’s band plays a set from the viewing stand. Eager parade-goers have staked out their spot on the curb with beach towels. The small downtown area is full of people milling around, eating Mad Martha’s ice cream, people sitting all day at the roof-top dining spots, ready for the evening fireworks, still many hours away. Many wear red, white and blue, feeling patriotic. I have a flag pin set in rhinestones that was my mother’s from her days in the USO during WWII. I wear it proudly. I might wander over to my neighbors to say hello and share a drink. It is a friendly day and I glow with the warmth and happiness generated by the feelings around me.
Finally everyone is in their viewing spots and the parade kicks off promptly at 5pm. It begins with a Marshal, usually some dignitary from Edgartown, riding in a car, followed by veterans, wearing their uniforms, if they can still get into them. We all scream and applaud them these days, thanking them for their service. All manner of people and floats follow. Anyone can be in the parade. Friends drive antique fire trucks and throw candy to the crowds. I scream their names and wave, hoping to be recognized. Antique cars follow. Marching bands and fife and drums play to my delight.
Various organizations and animals from boating to camps, agriculture clubs and drama and dance groups, dogs and llamas follow along. Camp Jabberwocky, a long-established camp for disabled people, always has a theme. With counselors for every camper, since many are in wheel chairs, the costumes always reflect the theme, are incredibly inventive and bring smiles to all (and a lump to my throat). The parade wanders through downtown, taking about an hour. I’ve learned to stand with friends at the very beginning, while there is still a supply of candy and beads being thrown. I can double back to my street and watch it a second time if I choose (I usually don’t).
The last year the Celtics won the NBA title, the owner was on the Vineyard, along with Ray Allen. They both rode in an open car, with the championship trophy hoisted aloft. This may seem ho-hum to those in the Bay Area, but, though the Patriots have had a great deal of success, the Celtics haven’t seen glory days since the mid-80’s, so we all went wild.
The parade always ends with fire trucks from all the towns, sirens screaming loudly as the crowds disperse, going home to barbecue.
At night there is a fireworks display over Edgartown Harbor, an easy walk from my home. When my kids were young, we took beach chairs, sat out and watched them on the beach in front of the light house. The crowds after, coming through town, as we tried to get back to our house, were horrible. Lately, we’ve been invited to dinner parties that have a tiny view of the spectacle. I guess I’ve become a bit jaded. There is a more spectacular fireworks display later in the summer over in Oak Bluffs, and we all turn out for that, an end-of-the-summer ritual.
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.
What a lovely, evocative description, Betsy. You have really captured the spirit of a small town 4th of July celebration (even if that small town is tony Edgartown). I especially liked the description of the parade participants; not exactly huge brass bands and Air Force jets flying overhead. You include so many great details of the day, right down to your mother’s USO flag pin,
These are the sorts of timeless, traditional events that give even us cynical blue staters a lump in the throat. Thank you for sharing this!
I have attended this parade for 22 years, John (the photos in the essay are from that first year). The character of the town may have changed some, but not this lovely parade, with a local marching band, twirlers, 4H Club members and their prize-winning ponies. Sometimes, I wear the red and blue beads that I’ve collected from previous parades. You just have to love the whole spirit of the day and appreciate that we are still a free nation.
As jshutkin pointed out, there is so much rich detail in this story, drawn, it would seem, from an old Jimmy Stewart movie. Nice to know a traditional community Fourth still holds on even as our nation seems to splinter politically.
Thanks, John. Yes, there is comfort for me in the rituals I’ve described, and I love being part of them. It is nice that time stands still for a moment and we can just be part of America and enjoy that. Walking up Main St. a few moments ago, the tent was already up on the lawn next to the church, getting ready to sell the lobster rolls tomorrow. Traditions continue, no matter what, and the next generation will pick up the mantle.
Ah, anticipation. Send us a couple of lobster rolls, please!
Would that I could (price of lobster is sky-high this year). Sending loads of love (not quite the same, I know).
Lovely story, and great pictures, Betsy. Sounds like a wonderful annual event. You had me at the lobster rolls! I know that some people are saying that they don’t want to celebrate the 4th this year because of the terrible condition that our country is in, but maybe that makes it even more important.
The Orange Monster situation is concerning, but makes me feel like we should do our best to remember what this country was founded on and what it stands for! If we lose that, then we really are lost. We can’t let him take that from us.