On this, the most American of holidays in this, the most American of communities, we paraded our uniqueness. In the middle of a three-day weekend, in the middle of the year, straight up the middle of town, in the middle Midwest, in the middle of the universe (more or less), in the middle of busy and not-so-busy lives, we grabbed our banners and marched in meandering fashion, Type As with Type Bs, point A to point B, showing off who we are in all of our multifaceted glory.
Oak Park’s may be the only Independence Day parade where more people march than line the curbs — and parkways and lawns and stairs and porches — houses decked with bunting and furls of fabric flags.
I, flagrantly dismissing all pretense of journalistic objectivity, and Ray Heise, retired longtime village attorney, two of the unlikeliest figures ever to find common cause and fast friendship, grabbed the PVC framework supporting our Gun Responsibility Advocates banner and set off up Ridgeland Avenue from Adams to Chicago avenues.
Behind us marched the top brass of Oak Park’s finest — Police Chief Rick Tanksley, deputy chiefs Anthony Ambrose and Frank Limon, and Commander La Don Reynolds — which would have been a brilliant strategic move on our part had we thought of asking them. But the chief asked us first.
If any officer on the force wonders whether this community appreciates their efforts — among the trickiest and most sensitive demanded of any suburban department — they would have been reassured by marching with us this 4th of July, to sustained applause the length of the parade. Not perfunctory clapping, mind you. The real thing.
Some acclaim was also directed toward our group and our partner organization, Moms Demand Action, arrayed behind us, combining to promote Universal Background Checks nationwide as a common-sense step toward reducing gun violence.
But none of the signage making our case was as effective as the statement made by Oak Park’s top cops choosing to march with us in solidarity — sans gun in the chief’s case.
For the record, the weather was about as good as July 4th gets: Summery and sunny, but mild enough for marchers and spectators alike.
And it held throughout the day into the evening when the second parade commenced, family and friends streaming north, south, east, west, walking off their BBQ bounty and their watermelon sangria, converging on the high school campus from all points within and beyond our borders, to gaze wide-eyed upon the promised pyrotechnics.
Linden Avenue was lined with lawn chairs, blankets blanketed the tennis courts, the athletic field south of Lake Street filled with non-competitors, and bleacher-tolerant backsides swelled the stadium to not-quite-capacity — plenty of seats remaining even after the entry gate shut down (for future reference).
Rockets soared to satisfied ahs and recorded serenade. We all came to look for America, as Paul Simon crooned, and found it in Ray Charles’ soulful “Oh beautiful, for spacious skies.” The spectacular Wednesday Journal-sponsored finale set those spacious skies afire, synchronized with Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
If only it could last forever.
Then the peak of summer having passed all too quickly (as it always does), parade number three of the day began, winding its way through the pungent gun-powder haze. All manner of humanity and every strata of society funneled down streets in every direction, narrowing to firefly-festooned sidewalks like some gently pulsing echo of the night’s recently concluded razzle-dazzle, closed in by the low canopy of trees.
This last march was, perhaps, the most remarkable parade of the day — orderly, peaceful, the top brass clustered at ground zero in the middle of the East Avenue/Lake Street intersection, dead center of town, forming a casual command center to oversee the dispersal.
In the unseen surround, the chaos of individual firework frenzy let loose, distant and not-so, reverberating for hours, but here, for now, all was well.
After the annual big bang, July begins its languid unfurl, with August yet to follow.
So much of summer lies ahead.
But this was a good start.