War mostly takes away, but you’ve got to give it credit for its contributions as well. Among the many inventions now taken for granted but created in times of battle, you can list Spam, duck tape, the Hummer and parades. Now, many looking at that short list and forced to choose would put the infinitely useful duck tape (or duct tape, as it came to be known) at the top but, to quote a classic Harold Arlen song, “I love a parade.” And my favorite parade each year is the 4th of July spectacle in Andover, N.H. Not for any quantifiable reason. It’s small and fairly predictable. The children lead the way on decorated bikes, the usual town organizations roll past perched atop their gaudily improvised trailers, Leapin’ Lena, the steatopygian tin Lizzie pops wheelies and backfires as it lunges at the crowd, the Andover One-Wheelers perform synchronized moves while perched, improbably, upon swift-moving unicycles and people still offer up that long-overdue applause when the Vietnam vets walk by. Oh, and the fire engines — seems like 100 of them — loudly pull up the rear.The first parades were no doubt bloody spectacles greeting warriors as they returned victorious from battle. The marching bands and floats are modern-day placeholders for the drummers and flag bearers heralding the spoils of war piled high in wagons rolling back to the fortress. Today’s Miss New Hampshire waving in the back of a convertible is perhaps a civilized stand-in for the defeated barbarian queen being carried home for a political shot-gun wedding to seal the victory. But just as the Hummer evolved from a vehicle designed to help protect troops in foreign conflicts into a symbol of the kind of excess that seems to get us into foreign conflicts in the first place, the parade has morphed over the years.Big parades with ticker tape still honor our conquering heroes — nowadays usually Super Bowl winners — but small-town parades honor small-town life in all its quotidian earnestness. The crowds that line the streets feel the excitement build as the music draws near and people jostle and block one another’s view. Then, what passes before them, from the Girl Scout troops to the marching bands, is nothing more or less than the hopes and aspirations of that very crowd. Their children file past in orderly array as neighbors cheer them on, town veterans are honored, local businesses donate their services in exchange for cardboard and crepe paper signs, public servants walk past at eye level and town vehicles, from police cars to ambulances, are polished up and blasting their sirens for no emergency — just to declare the joy of the day. On a 4th of July, when the weather is right, the parade and the crowd know they are really just one thing that suddenly, happily, is bigger than the sum of its parts.I like to think our annual Best of NH issue is a bit like that kind of parade. It arrives with great fanfare, but what you discover inside is sometimes quite familiar. It’s a chance to celebrate the greatness that’s all around us, often hidden in plain view, and no matter who is riding the floats and who is cheering along the way, we all really win.
This article appears in the June 2010 issue of New Hampshire Magazine