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Chuck Brooks: Fourth of July rituals never disappoint

I'm never not surprised at how quickly a year passes, but here we are once again, preparing for the Fourth of July holiday. For me, that means sitting on a flatbed in the parking lot of Valley Bike and Ski for a few hours, announcing the Freedom Days' parade that takes place every year. I don't remember when I began the gig, but I'm sure I've been doing this for at least 30 years. It began for me when a parent of a student I had taught thought I'd be good for the event. I never really thought I'd be doing it all these years, but then, I'm certainly glad they've kept me on board. I always have fun with it. The woman who hired me at the start is still the woman in charge of making the parade a reality. And for all the years we've been doing it, it's never once been a rainout. How that works so consistently all these years is beyond me.

The remainder of the day is rather lackluster. It wasn't always that way. Now, though, I pretty much go home, grill something for dinner and settle in to whatever might be on TV. My Milwaukee Brewers play that day at 3:15 p.m. so I can watch them before I go to grilling. Usually, in the evening, TCM plays "The Music Man," which is one of my two all-time favorite musicals of which I never tire. The other would be "Hello Dolly."

When I was a kid, July 4 meant fireworks on the smallest scale, pure and simple. It was primarily sparklers and snakes. Remember snakes? We'd light them on the pavement, and from a little black tablet a fluffy tube of black would grow. The smell was atrocious, and they always left a black scar on the sidewalk after the wind blew the ashes away. The sparklers were always something we enjoyed in our neighborhood as my brothers and the neighbor kids would write our names in the air with artistic flair. As for actual fireworks, we didn't go as a family before I was 10. As I grew a little older, we added a baby sister to the batch of three boys, and we'd try to attend a fireworks display in my parents' hometown 10 miles away; however, my sister would scream her lungs out until Mom and Dad knew it was a futile battle and she'd win, so it was back home we'd go. It wasn't until I was out of the house when I began to attend fireworks on July 4.

Ten miles from our home in a different direction, there was a town where they celebrated the holiday in a park with all the fixin's. I ended up going there in my first year out of high school with my friend Eunice, whose death I recently shared with you, and her daughter. They enjoyed the drum and bugle corps competition that went on in the park in that town on that day. It was my first time ever hearing a drum and bugle corps. There'd be no looking back. I was in love with it. I still am to this very day. They also had fireworks at night that we would sometimes attend.

Once I began my career and the parade announcing job was mine, I'd be tied to the area for the day. Over the years, I've attended fireworks in Rochester as well as watching them from a high-level floor in a St. Paul apartment building as they occurred every year during the Taste of Minnesota at Harriet Island. I once watched Apple Valley's show from a lawn across from Scott Highlands. If my memory serves me correctly, the one year I did not announce the parade because I was in Alaska, I likely saw them in Alaska, but my memory is fuzzier on that fact.

Nowadays, I will step outside my home at night in Apple Valley where I have a clear shot of the display. The perks? I don't have to deal with the crowds of people. I don't have to drive and find a parking spot. I don't even have to walk a distance. And if the bugs are bad, I go back into the house and tune back in to Professor Harold Hill working his magic in River City. Easy peasy!

When I arrive to my spot on July 4 this year, I will do my pre-parade ritual. That would be walking down the street to Rascal's tent where I get two brats. I walk back and chat with the sound guy who used to be our DJ for the school dances. I then climb the uncertain steps to the top of the flatbed, greet the parade judges, sit down to page through my parade book and begin doing some pre-announcing "stuff." I greet my National Anthem singer, normally a student from RHS. Once the flyover takes place, we're off! Two hours later, another Freedom Days' parade in the books.

I hope you have a great July 4 in however you choose to celebrate it. If you're in the parade area, say hi. I often hear "Hi, Mr. Brooks" from behind me. Always nice to see a familiar face.

Next week, we're going back to the '60s and summer playgrounds. It'll be fun.

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