Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - July 9, 2021

A slice of Americana

When I told husband Art I wanted a "slice of Americana" this 4th of July, I wasn’t even sure what I meant. Most of my Independence-Day celebrations had been with family and typically included parades, picnics and pyrotechnics. But this year, it was just the two of us. Daughter Mariya and wife Miriam were in El Paso celebrating with Miriam's family. Daughter Katie and husband Matt were busy preparing for a gathering with his family in Hawaii.

As the day approached, we were at our cottage in the North Woods of Wisconsin. We had three primary choices: head down to Art's hometown of Appleton and continue cleaning out his family home readying it for sale, make the long drive back to hot Kansas or remain at our much cooler cottage. I had seen posters and articles in the local paper about the planned festivities in the adjacent village of Three Lakes and it sounded like fun. So while some choices are hard, this was not one of them!

Art's more of a morning person than I am, so most days he'll get up and work on some task until I decide to honor him with my presence. Then we'll work on projects, frequently together. This means we often don't get out of the house until well past noon. But the parade began at 9 a.m., so just before dropping off to sleep the night before, I asked him to not let me sleep past 8:15. He looked startled. "That's still the middle of the night for you, isn't it?" he asked.

It was good I was tired or else he may not have seen the morning!

We were surprised to find the main street already lined with people three-, four- and five-deep, but we were lucky to find a good spot. Onlookers, young and old, were dressed in red, white and blue T-shirts, pants, shorts, dresses, jackets and other apparel. Many wore headdresses be-spangled with red, white and blue stars and American flags. Some had brought their own lawn chairs decorated in the iconic colors.

The parade began with everyone standing as local American Legion Post 431 members passed by with Old Glory and the flags of Wisconsin and Three Lakes. They were followed by the trailer of the American Legion Women's Auxiliary bearing the sign: "USA: We the People - On the Rebound."

Members of the local volunteer fire department followed, first with an antique fire truck and then with their new shiny red engines.

Trucks and trailers - sponsored by area businesses, churches and local politicians - came after. Area high school bands played patriotic songs in between. One band came from Seymour, about 120 miles away, and another, The Marching Hodags, came from Rhinelander, a distance of some 20 miles. The Northwoods Marching Band has musicians from eight area schools and had a sign alerting onlookers to their upcoming participation in the 2023 Rose Parade in Pasadena, California.

Art was surprised to see Tom Tiffany, the area's Congressional Representative - kind of a coup for a tiny village in a 20-county district with much larger communities.

Among my favorite groups were the "Leinie Guys" - those advertising Leinenkugel beer, the lumberjacks - who rode high atop an antique log hauling wheel, and the "Lawn Chair Ladies Brigade" - the local women’s club. The latter group carried folding lawn chairs, with letters affixed to the seats. At one point, their message spelled "R-E-S-I-L-I-E-N-C-E."

Of course, there were the expected Shriners driving mini-cars and ordinary folk showing off their classic vehicles. There were tractors, motorcycles, bicycles, boats, an electric golf cart and a Mustang car. But there were unusual groups, such as the members of the girls' high school basketball team celebrating their runner-up status in the 2020-2021 state competition. Art wondered how many people would not recognized the snowmobile-trail groomer. Count me among those!

Parade marchers and riders threw candy and frozen treats to the younger members of the crowd. Many must have been coached about what to expect as they had containers to hold their loot after dashing after the flying pieces. One little girl made a face as the tube of frozen confection began to melt, making a river of orange flowing down her chin.

The end of the parade was signaled by the Three Lakes Lions Club float with signs such as "Hunger" and "Diabetes," highlighting community problems they work on. Art said the latter seemed fitting with all the sweets that had been showered on the crowd.

Once the parade was over, Art and I watched as people gathered children, dogs, strollers, lawn chairs and other paraphernalia to return to their vehicles. Three Lakes, population 2,100, must have been twice that size during the parade.

We missed the traffic since we had walked from the cottage. After resting a bit, we headed to the park to partake of brats with sauerkraut and sodas while enjoying the local band Bogfoot, who obviously were fans of Dire Straits. They proved to be surprisingly good, cheered on by beer-bearing women boogying to the beat.

We also did something I hadn't done for a very long time. I sat in the green grass, while Art was on his back enjoying the blue skies. Wisconsin is chigger-free, so there would be no itching later for having done so.

At dusk, I watched the fireworks from our living room window - close enough to see the red, white and blue sparkles in the sky, but far enough away from the park to not be disturbed by the smoke, noise and crowd.

When I assessed the day later, I realized how pleased I was that there had been no signs of divisive politics anywhere. People were just enjoying the beautiful day, having fun, and feeling grateful to be "out and about." Perhaps without being consciously aware, it had resonated with the Independence Days of my childhood in an even smaller village. While it was different from what I've experienced in recent years, I'd found that slice of Americana I'd been yearning for.

Top row: Representatives of the local American Legion post opened the parade. Not seen in many parades is a set of old logging "Big Wheels" which were attached to a team of horses on one side and the logs to be dragged from the forest on the other. A snowmobile-trail tractor pulls a trail groomer. A typical example of the patriotic apparel seen. Bottom row: Rhinelander's Hodag Marching Band arrives at the village's main street. The "Lawn Chair Ladies Brigade" preparing to display their "Resilience" message. "Bogfoot" entertaining a few ladies who appeared to be enjoying themselves.

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