It only took me fifty years to figure out how to stay warm while watching Duluth’s local winter parade in person. One could watch it on the television and stay warm, but that doesn’t count. I needed to watch the parade in-person because my son was marching in it for the first time as part of the high school band. This Northland rite of passage requires parental attendance. I did so for my oldest son, thus for my youngest, too.
It’s almost always below freezing for the parade, which challenges both marchers and spectators. I marched in the parade myself for at least four years for various school bands, and due to this, have little love for it. I recall the numbness of cold appendages, frozen valves on my French horn (which my boyfriend thought could be solved by pushing down hard on all the keys, thus breaking the strings and rendering the instrument tuneless) miserable school bus rides to and from the staging area, and the pain of thawing fingers and toes. (This was before the time of hand warmers.)
But we band rats didn’t have it as bad as the cheerleaders. Back then, before someone got wise and invented flesh-colored thermal tights, they danced in short skirts and skimpy nylons. I am half serious when I say that I thought then and still think now that the Christmas City of the North Parade, far from being an event that brings the community together, is just a case of socially sanctioned child abuse.
Truly, most of the participants are children — from dance schools, high schools, and community groups. Only in Duluth does it seem like a good idea to make our progeny travel a mile-and-a-half down a frozen road, performing for our amusement and joy. Even the television anchors from the station sponsoring the event stay indoors now, much to the disgust of the hardy spectators.
Pleasant parade memories aside, this year, I did it right. The parade route changed so that it passed several eating establishments. I met some friends (thanks Charlotte and Katie!) at an arts café over an hour before the parade began. That way there was still plenty of parking (found a nearby free spot on my first try) and ample time to eat before the parade. I had eaten at home, so I just drank some wine.
Wine! Silly me. Why had I never thought of combining alcohol with parade watching before? The beverage filled me with warmth and goodwill toward this thinly veiled community child abuse event.
When the parade started, we stood outside on the curb, waving to the passing floats, facing the cold wind blowing down the street. When we got chilled, we went inside the café lobby and watched the event on television and through the café windows, which fronted the street. All of us had sons in the same band, so once we saw the band approaching on the television, we worked our way to the curb to see it pass by in person, and to wave vigorously to our sons.
Then I headed for my car. Why stay and watch the whole event if I didn’t have to? As I passed the café windows, I noticed an empty table in a prime parade viewing spot. I thought, “Next year, that’s where I will sit.” Although my son will be in the parade then, too, since his maiden voyage is over, I can get by with even more comfortable viewing arrangements in the future. Just look for me and my friends at the center table, sipping our wine and staying warm, while the rest of the world marches by.