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Celebrate an Old-Time Fourth of July

Enjoy the conclusion of "Old-Time Fourth" by Amanda Butcher

My ears were almost immediately treated to a din of cowbells, horns, and boisterous shouting. I heard explosions and more shouting. Laughter closely followed. A huge fire flared up yards away from a shed, and I noticed people running from the flame. I looked at the ghost bewilderedly. Her eyes sparkled as she explained, "East Longmeadow ignored Springfield's banishment of an Old-Time Fourth with the usual explosions and fireworks." She shook her head. "Kids," she muttered, just loud enough for me to hear. "Let's go."

The night blurred and the shouting subsided. I was dazzled by the sudden daylight. People were scattered down the street, cheering in an almost refined manner. The sound of horses' hooves clattered on the street. I saw numerous signs that read, "OUR TOWN: 21 YEARS OLD. July 1, 1915." A sign on a horse-drawn wooden box said, "Washings done, 50 cents." Another horse drawn carriage came by. The woman told me, "That's the winning float." It wasn't really a float at least to our current standards. It was a big wagon with festively decorated wheels that was pulled by horses. The horses had flags on their bridles, and the "float" had red, white and blue cloth adorning the sides. Before my eyes had their fill staring at the floats of 92 years ago, the woman brought me to another time.

"It's 1923," she began as my eyes adjusted yet again. A float had just passed by, and another, which was crammed with children, was not far behind. Each child was wearing some kind of patriotic costume, from a pilgrim to a founding father to an adorable bride. There were Indians and farmers, peasants and kings. There were at least 30 of them, packed onto that one float. But I was whisked away again, after waving at the queen. Maybe the old woman thought that was improper.

I was plunged into a dreary mix of darkness and clouds. A man's voice echoed around the street, where a large crowd was gathered. The old woman identified the voice as Merle Sellow, the chairman of the Independence Day Committee. ".and second prize, best decorated float, Oxford Club." Polite applause was heard as the president of the club gratefully accepted the prize.

"It is 1931," the woman filled me in. "'The noise and disturbance which has characterized Fourth of July in this town was decidedly abated last evening. Except for the huge and spectacular bonfire on the playground, the burning of an old Ford and occasional fireworks, the evening before the Fourth was quiet.'"

"Quiet?" I exclaimed. "Sounds like a riot!"

The woman rolled her eyes and took me to another time. "It's 1973," she explained. I opened my eyes and immediately saw one of the biggest elephants I had ever seen. "That's Morganette," the ghost continued. "She was a great hit with the kids. Everyone loved her. And now, I'm going to take you to my personal favorite parade. The year was 1976."

She took my elbow and brought me to the bicentennial parade. "The '76 parade hosted a children's costume contest. All of the costumes were adorable!" I opened my eyes to see a girl about 10 years old wearing a long dress that seemed to be from the time of the Revolutionary War. She carried an American flag. A boy about the same age rolled by in a wagon, looking like a wounded warrior. Four other boys followed; two carried drums, one had a whistle and one waved a flag that had only 13 stars. I saw a float shaped like a rowboat with five children positioned and costumed in a way that reminded me of the painting of Washington crossing the Delaware. The U.S. Air Force Band of the East came all the way from New Jersey to play in the East Longmeadow parade. An entire float was covered in a quilt that was probably handmade by the women riding it. A float of the post office was adorned with a replica of the Statue of Liberty and two eagles ready for flight. Miss East Longmeadow, Karen Marie Hand, stood with her court on a float decorated with an enormous hat of Uncle Sam. All of the floats I saw were extravagant and patriotic. After a few minutes of watching this parade, the woman took me away again.

We stopped in 1981 to see Anne Marie Butler, the new Miss East Longmeadow, pass by, her court laughing with her as all of them waved to the captivated audience. I also saw a float decorated to look like an island in the South Pacific. The people riding it were adorned with leis and hula skirts. The woman told me that they had been in the community theatre.

In 1988, I was astonished to see an airplane traveling down the parade route. Kids were stretching out to touch it. Its wingtips passed by the edges of the crowd on both sides of the street. I, never having touched an airplane, reached out to it to touch it myself.

Next, we viewed a parade from 1994, the centennial celebration of our town. The ghost and I watched the fireworks crash and explode in all colors. It was a celebration I would never forget.

Too soon, we were back in 2007! I watched the rest of the parade with the old woman. When the last of the Melha Shriners passed, she turned to leave, but I stopped her. I asked her the question I had been longing for her to answer: "Who are you?"

She grinned mischievously, a smirk I had seen so often in the mirror. "I am Amanda Butcher," she replied. "The 2008 parade was really good, better than '07 if I remember correctly."

And with that, the ghost of my future disappeared, leaving me flabbergasted on the side of the street.

Happy Fourth of July!