We Died In The Middle Of The Parade Route

Julie R. Neidlinger

The 2004 Hampden Centennial was, perhaps, the last hurrah of my beloved hometown. For a year or more prior the big weekend, the Centennial committee had been planning the event, commissioning signs, gathering history for our book, and organizing activities. That was a summer where every weekend a town had a centennial, 1904 being the year the railroad came through the area.

While I could tell you several stories from the celebration (including one where my portrayal of an elderly woman in a questionable theatrical performance ruffled some feathers), I have to tell you about The Parade Float That Time Forgot.

My family's parade float, to be exact.

Our farm is a centennial farm, and we had created a sign to put on the back of a classic International truck, complete with hay bales and family members dressed up like farmers. My great-aunt Bernice, the oldest female high school graduate at the celebration, and therefore queen for the day, would also ride on the float. The car she was to ride with the oldest male graduate (and former mayor) neglected to come by and pick her up, so my sisters and I hoisted her up onto the high truck bed, getting black grease on her lovely white pantsuit which she laughed off as she adjusted her queen sash.

“We're farmers,” she said.

A more wondrous parade has yet to be seen.

Hampden, only having a small chunk of pavement there on Main Street where the highway goes through town, had hundreds of parade entries. Horses, trucks, tractors, high school reunion classes from the 1940′s and on — it was glorious, it was long, and that meant that a lot of entries had to wait a long, long time in the staging area back by the old school gym so that the huge crowd gathered in front of the cafe on that one stretch of pavement could see them. The route was quite short, the candy horde numbered the stars, and our family's float was towards the end.

Perhaps we should have not idled the engine all that time.

We waited nearly an hour as bit by bit the large snaking parade wound through the small town for the Glory Moment on that short patch of pavement. By the time we finally got moving, I was about done with the parade and had eaten my fair share of Tootsie Roll candies from our candy buckets. Rounding the corner onto Main Street, I was stunned to see the amount of unclaimed candy covering the pavement.

The parade was so long, the candy so much, that kids had given up caring about the candy being thrown!

We chugged along down Main Street, waving to the parade-weary crowd, unaware that we were about to make their day. Three-fourths of the way down the street, the truck ran out of gas.

It rolled to a miserable, gasping stop.

Suddenly, the crowd was awake and vocal.

“Are you kidding me?” I said to my neice who sat next to me on a hay bale. “All this work to bring honor to a centennial farm, and we end up being the clowns?”

She snickered, and then hopped off the truck. She started to push as my brother-in-law, who was at the wheel, steered to the side of the street. I made sure my great-aunt was situated OK on her hay bale, and made the move to join them amidst the catcalls and “get a real truck!”

My sister, who had been riding a horse behind the float, took off at a lope to find someone to tow us just a bit farther to the Cenex station at the end of Main Street. A four-wheeler soon arrived and did the job.

That evening, we all sat around and laughed. Anyone can have a successful parade float, slowly grinding along, easily forgotten. But running out of gas while dressed as country hicks, pushing an old truck while a horse gallops off to find help?

That's true Neidlinger majesty right there.

Time may have forgotten our parade float, but my family hasn't. We still bring it up in our marathon “remember when” sessions over the holidays, laughing harder each time.