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Parade of LIghts

By Joanie Miller

Our caravan edged into the crowded gravel parking lot across from City Hall. We untangled ourselves and piled out of the two minivans and Jeep Cherokee. A fresh powder of glittering snow covering yesterday's now frozen slush forced us to walk arm in arm on unsteady legs towards town. The frosty night air, heavy with moisture, made the icy wind seem even colder.

As we shuffled on, the sparkling white lights silhouetting the jagged rooftops of the downtown buildings sliced through the night sky. Down below, hundreds more were draped around the leafless maple and ash saplings that lined the frozen sidewalks of Main Street. Old-time wrought-iron lampposts wearing their globes like helmets and wrapped in pine garland with red bow ties, stood like sentinels ready to hail Santa's arrival.

Inching our way past the local Chevy dealer, the muffled sounds of "Silent Night" floated through the air. The loudspeaker atop the corner showroom shuddered in the wind as the junior high band played their repertoire of Christmas carols on fine-tuned bells. A river of people, bundled up against the wind and cold, flowed through the downtown streets seeking the best vantage point. Some wore red fuzzy hats trimmed with white fur, a few sported reindeer antlers, all filled with the spirit of the season and the excitement of the night's annual event.

"Merry Christmas, long time no see," called a raspy voice behind us. Spinning around we came face-to-face with two sets of smiling eyes peeking over red plaid woolen scarves. Bearhugs, hearty handshakes, and everyone talking at once, reunited us with some old friends, long since gone from our town. After catching up on news of our families, and a final promise to keep in touch, we sadly watched them disappear into the growing crowd.

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Finding an empty spot, we settled in to await the twinkling procession. The spicey smell of cinnamon and cloves in hot apple cider drifted to the street, as people wove in and out of storefronts, aimlessly passing time before the start of the parade. A line was forming in the grocery store, drawn by the pungent odor of beeny weenies and assorted complimentary hors d' oeuvres that made our mouths water. With the changing wind, came the distinct smell of garlic drifting over from the bread bakery in the next block.

"Is it time yet?" children asked as they huddled impatiently on stadium blankets and patchwork quilts along the curb. We watched knowingly as a five year old, wide-eyed and breathless, anticipated his first glimpse of Santa and Mrs. Claus. Behind him his parents danced on one foot then the other, hands under their arms, trying to keep warm. With the suddenness of a lightning strike, the town went dark. An unseen city worker had flipped the main switch, shutting down the city lights. Like a volcano errupting, an explosion of fireworks invaded the darkened sky. And just as molten lava winds its way down a mountain, so came the Parade of Lights snaking its way through the streets to the center of town!