WATERBURY — Rose Digracia won’t be writing any angry letters this year, because she got everything she wanted out of Saturday’s “Not Quite Independence Day Parade” in Waterbury.
She got coffee — boxes of it — courtesy of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters.
She got cheese — two slivers of cheddar — straight from Cabot Creamery.
And, the Florida woman who accidentally caught a lollipop that she wasn’t at all interested in and a hot dog she didn’t finish, got ice cream — a single serving of Cherry Garcia that, thanks to a little sleight of hand, she topped off with 3.6 ounces of Strawberry Shortcake. Note to Ben & Jerry’s: You won’t be getting a letter like the one you received from Digracia after last year’s parade expressing her profound disappointment over the notable absence of ice cream.
Only four things got Digracia out of her seat on John and Kelley Jipson’s front porch late Saturday morning. One of them was the sound of bagpipes; the other three involved word that one of the Vermont producers of what she views as the holy trinity of parade giveaways was approaching.
On a day when Main Street was awash in red, white and blue, Digracia was focused like a laser on coffee, cheese and ice cream.
Though Digracia didn’t actually consume any of her most prized curbside collections, she pursued them with the all the enthusiasm of children scrambling after candy as it skitters across the pavement.
“I love this parade!” she exclaimed, settling back into her seat with a satisfied smile after she finished filling a three-item grocery list near the tail-end of a parade that has made the Jipson’s home, and others like it, a magnet in Waterbury this time of year.
With a house that is located right on the parade route, the Jipsons have played host to a growing number of family and friends, like the 13 who traveled from as far away as Florida to join them for Saturday’s edition of a parade-first-barbecue-later tradition.
“This really is the social event of the year for our family,” Kelley Jipson said even as her husband generously noted there is always room for one more.
Traditions are flexible that way, which may explain why, for the second straight year, Waterbury comfortably put Independence Day in its rearview mirror before the end of June. It will happen again next year and when the Fourth of July falls on a Saturday in 2015, organizers will have to decide whether to strike the now-familiar disclaimer “Not Quite” from their Independence Day festivities, or celebrate the event a full week in advance.
It makes no difference to 102-year-old Florilla Ames.
“I’ve always been in the parade,” said Ames, who learned a week or so ago that her 1937 Ford — a wood-paneled station wagon her that her father, Arthur Perkins, bought brand new in Waterbury the year it was made — was being pushed to the very front of this year’s parade.
If her eyesight weren’t failing, Ames, the grand marshal of this year’s parade, said she would have happily hopped behind the wheel of a car that has covered 96,070 miles and, she joked, is older than most of the folks who turned out for the parade.
“Most of these people came afterwards,” she said.
Ames’ chauffer, 22-year-old Ethan Johnson of Barre, was one of them.
Johnson, who is young enough to be Ames’ great-great-great-grandson, successfully piloted her “Woodie” from one end of town to the other, leading a parade with a “Happy Birthday” theme inspired by the fact that Waterbury, like several surrounding towns in the Winooski River Valley, was chartered 250 years ago by New Hampshire Gov. Benning Wentworth.
Duxbury was another one of those towns and members of the Duxbury Historical Society, including one — Mark Morse — who came dressed as Wentworth turned out in force and ready for a little friendly rivalry.
“We’ve got the (Camel’s) Hump. What do they (Waterbury) have?” joked Morse, who thanks to a costume created by his wife, Bonnie, could have passed for Wentworth if he wasn’t wearing sneakers.
Morse recalled attending the 200th celebration back in 1963, a year when all Waterbury men grew beards for the occasion and wooden nickels were passed out as souvenirs.
“I’ve still got my wooden nickel,” said the man in the long coat, top hat, knickers and New Balance sneakers.
The Duxbury crew came armed with a tandem truck pulling a little red wagon, three horses, an 18-by-36-foot garrison-style American flag, a tractor driven by Morse towing a tiny float, and a separate float created by George Welch that showed the evolution of his family-owned lumber business.
“We’re just old hill people,” joked Welch. “For us this is just plain, old-fashioned foolishness.”
While Welch was laid back, Maureen Haney sounded more serious as she unfurled a flag that was carried in the parade by a dozen members of the historical society.
Duxbury’s efforts didn’t go unnoticed and judges agreed to honor them for “best use of theme” and very nearly gave Welch the nod for creativity.
Instead that honor went to local Scouts, who transformed a flatbed into a sizeable birthday cake with 25 extra large candles. Size mattered, according to Cubmaster Thea Churchill, who said 250 candles was too tall an order.
“We’re going for a factor of 10,” she said.
Another birthday cake, this one a triple-decker with believable white frosting and candles made out of PVC pipe, was good enough to earn first-time parade participants from Walker Construction “best in show” honors.
Erin Godin, who helped make the cake, said that’s more than the folks at Walker Construction were hoping for.
“We’re just trying to get our name out there,” she said.
Gregory Viens worked up a sweat marching in his period costume while occasionally pausing to fire a British “Brown Bess” musket that he made from a kit.
“I fired it 21 times with no misfires,” said the 62-year-old North Fayston man, who has had six knee replacements, appears destined for a seventh, but made it to the end of the parade route with a noticeable limp.
If you were looking for irony Saturday, Waterbury Rotarian Justin Blackman — the man with the thick British accent — said he would probably be the leader in the clubhouse.
“Where else would you find a British guy where the (Not Quite) Fourth of July is his favorite day of the year,” he said.
Blackman is the imagination behind the Rotary Club’s expanding fleet of custom tractors — including one dressed up like a military tank and armed with a working “candy cannon,” and another disguised as a Good Humor ice cream truck and hauling a freezer filled with 4,000 freezer pops that were passed out to parade-watchers.
“This is it,” Blackman said. “This is what I love.”
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