Op-ed column: Alplaus Fourth of July parade has old-fashioned, hometown feel

Parade has old-fashioned, hometown feel

I’m not sure when the Alplaus Fourth of July parade first began. It didn’t exist when we moved there in 1966. But I do remember its beginnings. Volunteer firefighters and their trucks lined up and went around the town in simple ensemble, with kids following on bikes decorated in red, white and blue for the occasion. My brothers were so excited. To be a part of a parade! A lot of effort went into creative patriotic adornments so their bikes would stand out at the contest held at the end of the parade.

Every year the parade got bigger. We drew in the neighboring fire departments. The classic cars came out of storage and their owners drove them proudly between the fire trucks and the bikes. Floats of various shapes and sizes appeared along with scout troops and marching bands. For a time there was a wagon filled with the young misses of Alplaus dressed up in gowns. “Miss Alplaus” was selected each year from among these young ladies.

There were politicians, as many as were home for the holiday. Elected officials from each party would march, keeping a respectful distance from each other. Sam Stratton came nearly every year. I have a picture of him kissing my daughter when she was a baby.

After the parade there were speeches and picnics at the firehouse. One year they gave awards to three boys who had saved someone’s life. They had been playing near the creek; one of them went too far and fell through the ice. My cousin and two of his friends formed a human chain to rescue the boy.

Word has gotten out about our parade, and people come to watch. At 10:00 a.m., entrants form their line at the elementary school. The parade marches down the center of Alplaus, over the creek bridge, and turns left on Belmont Avenue. Another left takes the parade over South Avenue, barely a street. A final left turn onto Mohawk Avenue, and here the parade heads for the main street, back from whence it came, and runs into itself.

We all love this part. Old cars, floats and politicians grind to a halt. The parade stops awkwardly, not knowing how to be a parade when not moving. The band members set their instruments down in the road. From our viewing area on the corner of Mohawk and South, we rise from our lawn chairs and greet the dazed marchers. Nobody has any idea what is going on at the end of the street, or how they will sort out getting the end past the beginning, and whether the fire trucks will safely pass each other. Nor do we care. For a few moments, the parade is frozen in time, in front of us.

One year, it was 90 degrees. When the parade ran into itself and stopped, we could see the sweat dripping down the faces of the marchers in their warm kilts and uniforms. We awoke from our heat-induced stupor: “Water! Water!” we yelled. My entire family mobilized. Everyone ran in different directions. My sister grabbed her large thermos. My mother raced into the house for pitchers and cups. We filled objects of all sorts from the garden hose. Grateful parade participants came to us with hands outstretched, grabbing cups of liquid, drinking, pouring them over their heads and down each other’s backs.

If you drive around Alplaus in the days and weeks before the parade, you will see residents’ patriotism on display as they ready themselves for our country’s birthday. Red, white and blue bunting edges porches and houses. Flags of all sizes are everywhere. There are little flags stuck in potted plants and regular sized ones hanging from poles on houses. There was even the biggest flag I have ever seen, hanging in one front yard, filling a space as big as a house.

It has never rained on the Alplaus Fourth of July Parade. I don’t believe it ever will. God watches over the people of Alplaus. On the Fourth of July, there is no posturing for or against the war or arguing politics. There’s just simple patriotism among neighbors. For an hour or so, this little hamlet of barely 400 registered voters shows its love of country like no place else on earth.

Audrey Osterlitz lives in Burnt Hills.

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