One of the biggest reasons we said goodbye to our youngest grandsons and our beautiful North Carolina beachfront to come back to the midwest for awhile was the chance to celebrate--as we always have--the Fourth of July with our friends and neighbors in Galva. It's a great day in my hometown, chocked full with events ranging from the early morning 5K race and pancake breakfast (most people don't run and eat at the same time) in the park across from our house, and continuing with highlights that conclude with Galva's amazing fireworks display, but also include the Arts Council's Art Jam and photo show, an antique tractor show and a favorite among many of our big-city friends--cow chip bingo. It's usually a big day for us, with our wraparound front porch and yard a good spot for viewing the lavish Freedom Fest parade and visiting with the many friends who find the time to stop by and say hello.
I'm usually pretty involved with the goings-on that day, with my main responsibilities being the parade, for which I have been the emcee for a number of years, and the talent show, where I've helped with announcing the contestants and setting up and running the sound system.
But this year was different.
We had discussed the fact that it might be just about time for me to back off a bit and let someone new try their hand at those duties. It's a long, pretty physical day, with equipment to move and lengthy periods spent standing in the hot July sun. My combination of creaky knees and chronic anemia relating to the cancer treatments I've undergone leave me pretty done in at the end of it, plus I've pretty much proved that I'm a washout when it comes to identifying the vintage tractors that make up a good part of the parade, and the jokes I tell between acts at the talent show have gotten sort of stale. But I didn't get around to discussing my feelings with the members of the festival committee, so I wasn't surprised when a message from parade organizer Lynda Anderson was waiting for me when we got back to Illinois.
"It's too late to bail out now," I said to my spouse. "One more year."
I called Lynda, and got some surprising news.
"We'd like you to do a different job this year," she said. "We'd like you to be Grand Marshall of the parade."
Now, according to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, a Grand Marshall is "a ceremonial, military, or political office of very high rank."
It was pretty humbling. There are any number of smart, giving, hard-working members of the Galva community who deserve that kind of honor. But having served on a few committees myself, I knew I would be doing no favors for the Freedom Fest folks if I insisted they scurry to find another honoree at the last minute.
So there I was. The Grand Marshall.
"Hello, Marshall," became a frequent greeting as the big day approached and the announcement of my upcoming honor appeared in an ultra-flattering article in The Galva News.
My spouse/fashion advisor picked out a red, white and blue plaid shirt that made me look, well, bright, and I even found some online advice on the proper way to greet the crowds along the parade route from an online source: "The Queen Wave: A hand gesture made consisting of a brief twist in the wrist, whilst the hands are neatly cupped."
It was not until the pre-Fourth pork chop supper put on by the Lutheran Church that I was reminded of the most important thing.
"Candy," said one doting grandparent friend. "My grandson wants lots of candy."
Yes, like many politicians and other self-important, so-called celebrities, I had forgotten that it's not enough to smile, wave and look like you know something.
You gotta give with the goods.
So I stocked up with a giant bagful, though I was leery of my ability to smile, wave and accurately toss bon-bons at the same time. Luckily, Jim Anderson's spiffy 1930 Model A convertible came with a valuable accessory--a trio of young ladies that included his daughter and the daughter of Star Courier editor Mike Landis. They quickly agreed to take charge of distribution from the rumble seat, while I settled into the shotgun position.
We proceeded up the Third Avenue parade route, around the park and through downtown Galva.
The girls did the important stuff.
I smiled. I waved.
Hopefully, I did it right.
Speaking of celebrations, we attended another gathering last week that marked an important milestone.
My cousin, Helen, turned 101.
She's my dad's first cousin, in fact, as their mothers were among the children of a Bishop Hill girl named Sophia Peterson, daughter of one of the first Swedes to reach America and the colony. Helen is the last of my dad's generation still around in my family and has always been a wonderful friend and a valuable source of family information, tales and trivia.
I got to thinking about all she's seen and lived through after we spent a little time with her the other evening.
She's lived through both world wars (and every war that's followed) and the Great Depression, witnessed the early days of cars, airplanes, radio and TV, and saw the introduction of a myriad of modern inventions, including pyrex, the zipper, the toaster, computers and the yo-yo. Chances are, she knew someone who actually heard Abraham Lincoln speak. For sure, she knew men who fought in the American Civil War.
"Be sure to drink the water at her place," said son Patrick when he heard we were going for a visit. "Maybe that's the secret."
But I think not.
Born in 1910, she just missed the Chicago Cubs' last World Series victory in 1908.
She's a big fan.
And I think she's been waiting ever since.
Happy birthday, Helen.
Speaking of grownups (I think Helen qualifies), we pursued some downright adult activities last week, as we attended not one, but two theatrical performances.
Now, while I heartily support all the arts in their various forms, I would be less than honest if I didn't admit that I think most live theatre could be improved vastly if they'd let you take in popcorn and ju-ju beans, like at the movies. So hitting two shows in a week is a tribute to both my growing maturity and the persuasive powers of my spouse.
First off was the Festival 56 production of Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew."
Festival 56 (named after the nearby I-80 mile marker and exit) is a professional theatre festival located in Princeton that "assembles from across the country a team of the most creative and talented artists living and working in professional theatre today." They fill the bill with seven summertime shows that include classic and world premier performances, plus free Shakespeare in the Park on Sunday and Wednesday evenings. I shocked my wife by suggesting that we attend, and we went, lawn chairs and snacks in hand, where we were treated to a fine, funny reprise of the first real live theatre production i ever attended many years ago.
it's free. It's fun.
You should go.
Next up on our whirlwind theatrical tour was the KHS production of "Annie Get Your Gun," the 1946 Irving Berlin musical that featured soon-to-be hit songs like "There's No Business Like Show Business" and "Anything You Can Do."
Now, high school theatre--especially musicals--can sometimes be a little painful, marked by inaudible, off-key singing, flubbed lines and rickety shop-class sets presented to crowds mostly limited to camera-toting grandparents, anxious moms and dozing dads. But the Kewanee kids and the adults who supported them did themselves proud, with a sharp, spirited production that featured some excellent song-and-dance numbers; elaborate, well-designed sets and an audience who really appreciated the hard work and dedication they gave to their craft.
And it, too, was free. And fun.
If you didn't go, you should have. Don't miss the next one.