Fourth of July is so bittersweet nowadays. At 61 years of age, I have lots of them to look back on, but by far the strongest memory for me, and I’m sure for all my 10 siblings and various cousins, is 4th of July at my grandparents’ cottage. As far back as I can remember, my dad has led a parade of children across the lawn and around the house, marching to the music of George M. Cohen pounded out on the piano by my Aunt Binnie. What started in the 1950’s as a cute idea for a handful of children — “Hey, how about a little parade with the kids?!” — has grown over the years to a tradition that spans generations.
“You’re a Grand Old Flag,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Over There.” We learned these songs as youngsters and sang them heartily, marching in a line kept straight by a string of gas station flags. Oldest to youngest, growing in number every year, we would imitate dad as he sang and zig-zagged around the huge lawn, kicking up his leg here and there, yelling, “Tighten up that line!” Down the stone steps (“Slow down!”) and along the shore of Lake Huron, the neighbors would pile out of their homes to watch us, singing and clapping along.
Of course, as we grew older, we were embarrassed by the show. “What would people think? We’re too old for this now. I’ll just watch.” No way. There was no sitting out, and if you brought a friend along, they were in, too. And so year after year, the tradition continued. With the oldest directly behind dad and the youngest often on an adult’s shoulders, the parade went on, sometimes nearly 30 of us in tow, singing, laughing, kicking up our legs,and just being silly, following the silliest of them all.
Our last 4th of July parade was held at my little cottage in Gaylord, but this time, dad was sitting it out. He had suffered a stroke the year before that left him unable to walk. But that didn’t stop him from singing the old songs, watching as his grown kids, his grandkids and even some great-grandkids marched alongside the deck for his review. “Tighten up that line!” we heard, as everyone lined up to pledge allegiance to the flag. I think many of us knew it would be our last parade with dad. I keep that picture in my heart and in my mind, but the melancholy it causes fades as I recall the wonderful memories of my youth, number 8 in line behind my sister and in front of my cousin, holding tight to the rope and waving our flags, singing and laughing as our parade leader set the tone and marched on.