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A parade brings out the kid in all of us - Valerie Baldowski

I had a most enjoyable experience Monday, one that made me feel almost like I was playing hooky from work, and getting paid for it.

I had the honor of covering the annual Martin Luther King, Jr., parade. I love parades, and getting a chance to attend one is always a treat. I like the music, the color, the pageantry and the excitement of seeing everyone marching down the street, walking together in disciplined unison.

I've always thought it was fun to watch the police stop traffic and close off the street, to let the parade go by.

The event brought back an early childhood memory. When I was about four years old, I went with my family one summer to visit Disneyland, and watched a parade there. I remember seeing the confetti thrown to the crowd, the drummers pass by, the baton and flag twirlers float by, and the shiny brass instruments glinting in the sun as the marching bands slid past. I was mesmerized, and as the last of the marchers went by, I fell into formation behind them, to follow.

I remember my mother telling me the story of her turning around to suddenly realize I was gone, marching along and bringing up the rear, like one of the enchanted children in "The Pied Piper."

She told me years later that she had to run and catch up with me to lead me back to the curb. Apparently, I didn't want to turn back, and it took some persuading to get me to leave my "spot" in the lineup. I do remember the photograph my mother took just before she went and retrieved me. It was the back of me, walking confidently after the tail end of the parade, proudly carrying my American flag.

Last year, when I covered the MLK Day parade, I felt the same joy and excitement from the noise and commotion I remember feeling when I was four. I felt that excitement again this year, as I walked along side the marchers, taking care to keep up, running up to the next corner, or the stop sign just ahead, then turning back to get a shot or two of a group of marchers as they passed by.

I enjoyed watching the blue lights of the police escort as it went before the parade, leading even the color guard in the forefront. I had a great time ducking down an alleyway and taking a shortcut, to come out one street over and a block ahead of the approaching parade. I had a bird's eye view of the action.

Adding to the enjoyment, was seeing the spectators on the sidewalk, who stopped what they were doing to watch. Some were sitting in the backs of pickup trucks parked in a convenient spot. Others had set out lawn chairs by the sidewalk, to get comfortable. Still others simply came to the front door of their business to look and wave, to be greeted warmly by returning waves from the marchers.

The camaraderie and goodwill was seen in the smiles of the participants and observers alike.

I was walking along the sidewalk as the march neared its conclusion, and the thought of how a parade affected me as a child, and how it still does, hit me like a thunderbolt. I remembered striding down the road chasing a parade as a 4-year-old, and wondered why that childhood memory had not bubbled up to the surface until this year's march.

I suppose, no matter what age, the excitement of a parade never gets old. It makes you feel like a kid all over again.

Valerie Baldowski covers government and politics for the Henry Daily Herald. She can be reached via e-mail at vbaldowski@henryherald.com.