Commentary: Confessions of a Bristol Fourth of July lifer

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 7/9/20

Like a lot of you out there, living in the shadows, I’m a confessed, lifelong, never-missed-a-parade Bristolian.

There were a couple of big shakeups, like the year we moved from watching it …

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Commentary: Confessions of a Bristol Fourth of July lifer

Posted

Like a lot of you out there, living in the shadows, I’m a confessed, lifelong, never-missed-a-parade Bristolian.

There were a couple of big shakeups, like the year we moved from watching it on the east side of the 600 block of Hope Street to the east side of the 500 block of Hope Street. Then there was the year, about 15 years later, when we moved back.

There was the year in the late 1980s when I parked my car way up on Franklin Street and left a little early to go see the Grateful Dead in Foxboro (now you know how old I am), but I saw most of the parade, so that still counts.

I don’t go back as far as many of you do, but I do clearly remember parade mainstays like Salty Brine, Senators Pell and Chafee, and Buddy Cianci, limply astride a white horse one memorably hot year.

In fact, the 4th of July is the only day that I can tell you, year over year, exactly where I was. I have not always been home for Christmas, or Thanksgiving, but I have never woken up on July 4th anywhere but Bristol.

Like many of you, as last week rolled to a close, I noticed everything was just a bit “off.” Our stripe didn’t get a fresh coat of paint; the reviewing stands did not go up at Church Street or the Town Common; the VFW lawn did not turn into a temporary trailer park.

I did not hear any bands practicing at Independence Park.

As we wrapped up our July 3 dinner, I was feeling a little down. All the parties we usually went to were cancelled (that, or I didn’t make the Covid-cut). I was sure there was going to be one word to describe the holiday this year, and that word was going to be “tragic.”

Then I heard it: fife and drum music making its way down Church and Hope. The Bristol County Fifes and Drums were marching the sidewalk playing that stuff they play, and next thing I knew, I (and a whole lot of other people) were following them around like the rats of Hamlin, tears in our eyes.

The next morning, I went to my spot on the east side of the 600 block of Hope Street and stood there with my family, and nobody else. It was very strange.

I missed my friends. I missed yelling at politicians. I missed the big brass bands, and people-watching. I missed the Marines. But we did have a parade, and so I cheered for that. I cheered for every last politician — partly because when you are the only family for half a block it’s glaringly obvious when you don’t, so yay, all of you!

We all greeted each other by name, and it was all just so Mayberry. And (silver lining!) when it was over, nobody smelled of stale beer.

As I arrived at the Common for the Patriotic Exercises I realized that I had made it in time to see the parade, in its entirety, from the other direction — something that would be a physical impossibility any other year. So for 20 minutes, I did the exact same thing I had just done, from the left.

When it was all done, my neck was not the only thing balanced. I had gained some much needed perspective about what I was, and was not, missing on this Covid-challenged holiday. It was a valuable reminder that at its core, this event is grounded in our community, and when you strip away the commercialism, and the pay-to-play bands, and the Patriots cheerleaders, community is what matters.

As we like to say in Bristol, it was the same, only different.

For a region that woke up on St. Patrick’s Day, a little more than three months ago, to the unimaginable news that not only had the governor ordered all bars closed, but Tom Brady was leaving the Patriots — this was the Fourth of July Parade we all needed.

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