If you put all the components of summer in a blender – barbeques, swimsuits, campfires, love, ice cream – and mix them up, you get a parade.

Is anything more summery than a parade?

And let’s, for nostalgia’s sake, make it a small town parade. A small town parade is a mortally personal affair.

 

Difficult not to both mock and admire the hometown effort at the same time. A lot of coordination, if not money, has gone into this. Just so residents can park themselves in patriotic folding chairs and chug root beer, razzing acquaintances who perspire, smile, and wave, wave, wave along the parade route. Look at them. They’re embarrassed, in a pleasant way. They like the attention but aren’t used to it. A car covered in plastic carnations honks jauntily to the lingering truck in front, get going.

Remember when you were in the parade? someone says, followed by a communal laugh at the memory. Hard to truly remember, only sensory traces remain – the sun bearing down, a jittery anticipation.

Components of a small town parade are universal. Here are more you may recognize:

Gymnasts in textiles that remain staunchly 80’s

Thinly veiled advertising

Agriculture

God

Industry

Shriners

Dairy

The parade ends at the fairground.

In childhood, the fairground evoked a Sunday School description of heaven: endless play and prizes, food, music, loved ones.

The manufactured mirth seems apparent as an adult, plainly hollow and even minimally sinister, but it still somehow retains a little of what you once went bananas for.


At the age of forty, Albert Camus returned to Algiers, “the city of summer,” to revisit the beauty of his childhood. His return, however, coincided with the rainy season. Luckily a reprieve from the rain came and Camus was able to visit again the Bay of Tipasa and the ruins nearby. He rediscovered, in the middle of winter, the places he’d loved as a child.

“I finally learned,” he wrote, “that within me there lay an invincible summer.”

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MEGAN POWER lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Visit her blog: http://meganpower.blogspot.com

39 responses to “Invincible Summer”

  1. Clive says:

    My sacred sacraments of summer unfortunately didn’t include street parades, and I cannot but help think, I missed something sincere and communal. At the same age Camus felt the need to indulge in his nostalgia for a land missed, I have realised I miss the summers I never had. Thank you for sharing a little of yours.

  2. Allison says:

    Oh nostalgia, nostalgia …the parade was definitely one of my favorite events in this small town, it let you know summer was here, a summer filled with endless possibilities …

  3. Allison says:

    and the fairground seemed to have endless amounts of cotton-candy and candy apples…it was a little piece of heaven for us , remember the pony rides?

  4. megan says:

    Nostalgia was considered a medical condition in the 1700s. How crazy is that? A “disorder of the imagination”. Treated with pharmaceuticals though I can’t find what exactly.

    The concept of a inner summer just really appeals to me.

    thanks you two x

  5. Beza says:

    Your writing sounds fresh as I imagine summers are in Canada…
    I grew up in an eternal beautiful tropical heat and now summers in Texas are just full of bikini tan lines….

    I would love to see a parade in spring time though, did you ever go to the Battle of Flowers here? I almost passed out from the heat 🙁

    • megan says:

      Yes! I did go to Battle of the Flowers one brutal time. It’s difficult to enjoy a parade when you’re sweating so hard it feels like you peed your pants. Texas should ban parades in summer.

  6. Gloria says:

    Okay, nothing was making me all that nostalgic until I got to the Shriner on the tiny motorcycles. Nothing brings a feeling of good cheer like The Shriners.

    This was really fun and it made me oddly wistful. I don’t miss small town living, but I guess part of me misses small town life, if that makes any sense.

    Invincible summer gave me the chills, but kind of in a good way.

    Thanks for this, Megan.

  7. Becky Palapala says:

    Ah, the shriners.

    In MN, we also have the Vulcans–tough to explain, but they’re St. Paul Winter Carnival lore characters, unique to this state, as far as I know.

    They look like this:

    http://www.winter-carnival.com/client_files/Images/2009_Vulcans/2009Krewe-2.jpg

    And they leap off a retro fire engine and go running through the crowd, smearing black grease paint on people’s faces.

    A Vulcan “kiss.”

    Just about every town within 100 miles of the Twin Cities hires them for parades. We did. As a kid, they were at once terrifying and the absolute highlight.

    *sigh*

    • Gloria says:

      The Vulcans? Really? That’s so awesome. 🙂 They look like superheroes.

      • Becky Palapala says:

        No! They’re eeeeevil. They want to melt King Boreas’ winter party!

        http://www.stpaulwintercarnival.com/legend.html

        • Gloria says:

          Oops. My bad.

          Also, “the goddess of the RosyFingered Morn” is rad. Who thinks up this stuff?

        • Becky Palapala says:

          That’s an old trope, most well-known for its appearance in the Odyssey.

          The winter carnival legend is basically a mimicry of a Greco-Roman myth. A really obvious mimicry.

          “Vulcan,” of course, is the Roman god of….fire and volcanoes. The grease paint is supposed to be soot, etc. etc.

        • Gloria says:

          The Odyssey. I know I read that. Parts of it still leap out of my cobwebby memory from time to time. I’d like to say that I want to reread it to brush up, but I think that would be a lie.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Without a professor cheering…er..driving..er…whipping you on, probably not going to happen.

          I mean, I love the book, but I’ll probably never read it again.

          It’s a hell of a long poem.

        • Gloria says:

          Totally. That’s how I feel about “Song of Myself.” I’ve wanted to revisit it and have even tried but…without the professor…

        • megan says:

          The Vulcans certainly have a strong look going for them. Sounds like a crowd pleaser.

          This small town parade ends with a series of yoked oxen lead by a crinkled farmer missing more teeth than not.

  8. JM Blaine says:

    You know that song
    about loving parades?
    I despise that song.
    More even than
    Dont Worry be Happy
    it is a far far more
    offensive tune
    it is.
    And I have always hated
    parades.
    I’m a parade hater
    from a small Southern town.

    love you
    though.

  9. 1159 says:

    Nostalgia is
    a medical condition
    a pandemic
    upon
    our generation

    • megan says:

      It’s easy to hate parades. But children are transfixed by them and I find that’s why most people are even there. it’s something to do with the kids.

      Nostalgia and irony are pomo signifiers. We can’t do without!

  10. Irene Zion says:

    Megan,

    I don’t think I ever went to a parade.
    I do have a friend who was a balloon holder at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, though.

    • megan says:

      Irene, you must go to some parade some time. Maybe take Lenore’s future children because she will need a break from them.

      Did you friend get paid to hold the balloon or is that like a volunteer thing?

      I strongly feel that the government of Canada should offer you & Victor a all-expenses trip back to Toronto to make up for the G-20 fiasco. I recommend the parades and general pleasing madness of Caribana

      http://www.caribanatoronto.com/event/caribanaparade

  11. Chip Nobin says:

    Ahh the Invincible summer that lays (didn’t he mean “lies”?) in all of us.

    I remember going to Phillipsburg Sesquicentennial when I was probably 10 years old or so. It was such a huge event for a town of 500 people, with all sorts of onlookers/wavers coming from adjacent towns. I remember it being one of the first multisyllabic words that imprinted itself upon my brain. I also remember everything you describe here in one slightly fuzzy slide after another, little chipped fragments from over decades ago when the world was immense and frightening and I lied safely in the bosom of the rural, gentle jungle of Phillipsburg.

    Parades always seem so fake to me, an affair full of small time pomp and ridiculousness, the essence of which you’ve captured efficiently and accurately in this here piece. I like all the pics, too, as I think that with the right words, they can make some of the best reading on the web.

    k*

    • megan says:

      As I write this Hurricane Earl has just arrived. The wind started howling awhile ago, which woke me up, and the rain’s blowing hard against the house. Deep lines yesterday at Blockbuster and the propane place; we’ll cook on the BBQ in case the power goes out.

      What you say is true – parades have an air of ridiculousness it’s impossible not to notice. But hating them is just too easy. What you’d like is watching other people’s responses. Children are rapt the whole time, and that is particularly pretty. You should see the boys go crazy when firetrucks roll by at a super slow pace. You can just see them envisioning themselves as heroes.

      I think I’m quoting a translation of Camus, it must be a translation. but it’s irregular intransitive lie-lay-lain – I think it’s right. Question mark.

      • Chip Nobin says:

        i do not hate parades, just think they seem so fake now, at this point in my life. and yes other people’s responses would be the draw for me. at the same time, i find that the older i get the more easily i can get caught up in children’s play worlds, their turning this world into something more than what it is, and how that is absolutely engaging and endearing.

        you’re right on Camus, i didn’t see it was simple past he was invoking, thought it simple present.

  12. Judy Prince says:

    Thanks, Megan, this reminds me of some parades as well as summer band concerts in the little town squares in the USAmerican midwestern towns. I was never an inhabitant, always a visitor, and it inevitably made me feel as you describe, as if I were witness, at once, to live kitsch and the heartbreaking sweetness of spirit.

    Impossible to separate those events from their summer fragrance and feasts—-nothing like beaches and suntan oil, yet, equally, a part of the lazy heaven of summer rolling perennially into view.

    • megan says:

      Judy, “the lazy heaven of summer” is a smart line.

      This was actually my town. Yet I still felt like an awkward witness because it’s been about 20 years since I went to that parade.

      Nova Scotia has some incredible beaches and we’re having the kind of mega-sunny, super-hot summer I’ve fantasized about all the years I lived away. So that smell you’re talking about? It’s everywhere. Did you know that smell is the first sense that develops in utero?

      • Judy Prince says:

        Thanks again, Megan. You must be over the moon to be back home, and to a glorious summer.

        I didn’t know smell was the first sense to develop in utero. I figured it might be touch and then sound. Curious, that. The last few days here in northeast England have been brightly sunny and warm with tall roses, hollyhocks and honeysuckle. And those magnificent skies.

        Richard Cox has mentioned hating parades, and it is easy to mock them (pronounced “mawk” by my Canadian mom and by dear Scottish Rodent). They’re hilarious, but as you say, kids are really parades’ intended audience. I love to watch them staring and running around!

        Once, on Chicago’s southside and trying to drive (with my then young son) around a St Patrick’s Day parade in order to get home, in desperation I decided to tag along at the end of the parade, thinking that my bright green Datsun might be acceptably Irish. We rather enjoyed ourselves, waving to the crowd. And we got home quickly.

  13. Richard Cox says:

    I kept waiting for you to make fun of something but instead you just presented this without opinion, which is great, because the reader gets to decide what he feels about it. Nice post.

    I’m with JMB. I hate parades. I like the fairgrounds but primarily for people watching. Although I also like to get in that ride with the two giant poles and the two-seat doohickey attached to the poles with giant rubber bands. Then they release the bands and you go flying up and down and back and forth. That thing is awesome.

    • megan says:

      Parades, 1.
      Fairgrounds, 3.

      The parade is merely foreplay for the fairground. What are you men saying? You hate foreplay?

  14. Erika Rae says:

    Oh man – you haven’t lived until you visit the 4th of July parade out of Jamestown, CO. This year, in an effort to be green, the mayor banned vehicles. So, yeah…a parade needs vehicles. Let’s just say it consisted of about 50 people who walked through a 200 yard stretch of street wearing silly hats and throwing candy. And then…it was gone.

    And yes. I think you’re right about men and foreplay. Ha!

    • megan says:

      oh wow Colorado, so intense with the environmentalism. it never occurred to me that parades were not ‘green’. Duh.

      Just walking people does sound a little dull. Maybe electric cars or segways? Some type of transport is required. A fleet of bicycles.

  15. I’ve taken my daughter to three parades this year, Megan. All of them almost exactly like yours. She loves a parade, so I love a parade. Candy. Pirates. Backfiring Corvettes. At some point I was able to release all my cynicism surrounding people really enjoying themselves in a possibly hokey but genuine way.

    • megan says:

      hey Sean, that’s a lovely image, you and your daughter enjoying the parade. It is so, so hokey but also as you noted commensurately genuine.

      Cynicism is just not useful in instances like parades. It should be saved for like political debates and reality TV shows.

  16. This piece made me miss home so much. Thank you. Now I want funnel cake.

  17. liesel says:

    well thanks for this my little lounge lizard!
    funny snarky charming and delicious!
    It will be my first winter in 18 years and alas I will need to find my inner invincible summer too!

    Earlier today Gia and I argued about exactly when is/was the official last day of summer…
    I have yet to Google it but how fortuitous to read this and invoke some (not so final) farewell thoughts!

    I’d also like to share a Chicago downtown parade memory involving clowns… that sound like those vulcan people… ugly scrappy clowns that would grab us from the crowd to walk in the parade for a block or two – but I remember resisting and the clown squeezed my wrist so hard and dragged me out – and their hand was so bony. geez! ouch
    and the dum dum parents just smile and clap and nod and prod you to get up and be a good girl and go with the coo coo abuser clown…. haha.

    I hope I never -or at least rarely – completely fail to notice when my future adopted kids are NOT really having fun even though I may hope and think they are

    muah – xoxo

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