The Homecoming Parade

This post was originally created and submitted for a project at the Grin City Collective’s Artist Residency Program, in which we were asked to cover some aspect of the Grinnell High School Homecoming festivities. For more information on the Grin City Artist Residency program check out: http://grincitycollective.org/

Homecoming parade

A month after my grandfather moved back to Pella it was during Tulip Time, which my grandfather hated with a burning passion. His birthday usually fell during this week of civic and historical price, so when he first moved back to his hometown after a forty-year absence, I of course wanted to visit.

I did know my grandfather’s stories from the week—“they make the school kids wear the stupid Dutch outfits and march in the parade. I got whipped so many times by the teachers because I used to run away and hide. They’d find me hours later.”

What I didn’t know was that it wasn’t just A PARADE but SIX of them. For three of them they throw Christmas lights on the floats and the marching band instruments, and call them “Night Parades”.

My grandfather’s sister dragged me out to each and every parade that week. My grandfather went to two.

“That’s easily the first time he’s been to more than one of them in a year, since the 1940s,” my grandpa’s nephew laughed.

***

So you must know my reference point when I hear ‘small town Iowa’ and ‘parade’. I imagine a big dog and pony show for the tourists, and a bunch of begrudging children marching in uncomfortable wooden clogs.

When all of us from Grin City drove down to the Homecoming parade in Grinnell, you instantly saw a certain level of community—neighbors helping other neighbors save viewing spots, cheerleaders fixing each others hair ribbons, senior citizens pushing school kids to the curbs in front of them for a better candy-catching spot. It’s truly a homecoming for many.

There is also an air to a homecoming parade as an outsider.

My grandpa used to play baseball for Pella High and when I asked him what position he played he told me “left out.”

As I walk along the streets and everyone is screaming out to each other, snapping pictures, chatting about who’s dating who, it reminds me out how I’m always an outsider everywhere I inhabit in the world.

You can tell everyone cares about each other and it’s a major civic event, but it does stress the overwhelming importance of sports in so many small towns and big cities across America and not much else.

I’m a major sports fan. I was raised by a whole family that worshipped Sunday mornings in a recliner, in front of a TV. I will always love sports for its plot points, narrative arcs and compelling characters. David vs. Goliath. The triumph of the underdog.

I will always be bothered by sports for the blindness and groupthink you often see surrounding it.

***

I took this picture above because this girl is my hero. Chaos breaking out around her, candy being thrown, kids diving on asphalt for Tootsie Pops, sirens blaring, school bands marching by, parents screaming for their kids to look over at them for the picture, the one they’ve taken every year since the kid could walk in the parade—and she looks up at the parade for only a half a second, before burying her head back in the book.

An interesting world lies within her mind and the pages in her hands and no one else seems to know it but her.

I love this picture because it reminds me of both my grandfather and I rolled into one. He was a defiant introvert at all times, and I’m content to isolate myself between the pages of a book or locked away from everyone as I write this.

Sometimes the only way you feel you can really connect to someone, anyone else at all, is to be completely alone with art.

Sitting there like that, she is saying everything about what kind of person she is and what kind of person she is going to grow up to be. I know her well.

When she can’t find her place in the world, she’ll always find her place between the pages and then if she’s lucky she’ll find her place with the rest of us like her.

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