By ERIN O'BRIEN What is it about the first perceptible drum beats signaling the beginning of a parade that set my heart aflutter? Add the hopeful sound of the flute piercing the air - and the bagpipes, with their mournful and beautiful sound - and I'm
What is it about the first perceptible drum beats signaling the beginning of a parade that set my heart aflutter? Add the hopeful sound of the flute piercing the air – and the bagpipes, with their mournful and beautiful sound – and I’m suddenly transported to the past.
The anticipation of the Gaspee Days Parade, especially after its absence last year due to COVID, prompted me to make an early start on Saturday. So early, in fact, my friend Dana and I arrived via Lyft to the deserted streets of Pawtuxet in the mist. As our driver disappeared into the morning rain, we began walking. We walked with our umbrellas and two small American flags until eventually a spot spoke to us, a corner near a commemorative sign describing the significance of Gaspee Point.
Rain-soaked rows of plastic chairs lined the parade route on either side of the street waiting for their owners. We’d come chair-less, as Dana’s barely cleared the ground, not affording much of a view, and mine didn’t fold for ease of travel.
The very first person we saw was a homeowner who’d finished setting up a table and chairs under a canopy on his front lawn. As the finishing touch, he smiled as he placed a small facsimile of the British schooner as the centerpiece.
The silence was broken as school buses with fogged-up windows, filled with passengers in colonial attire, chugged uphill.
I thought I saw George Washington on the front of a trailer instead of the bow of his boat on the Delaware. A pirate walked beside two highlanders along the red, white and blue traffic stripes down the center of Narragansett Parkway.
When I’d suggested the Gaspee Days Parade to Dana, lately of Connecticut, she figured being a Rhode Islander I’d know the ropes about parking and where to view the parade, until I reminded her I was a relatively recent West Coast expat.
Just before 10 a.m., when the parade was scheduled to begin, the rain suddenly stopped as if on cue from the weather gods. It was the Gaspee Days miracle, to say nothing of the Warwick weather forecast.
I never tire of the sound of a fife and drum band. Tri-corner hats, shiny buttons, boots and spats – the slow march enabled me to admire all the period details. Dana smiled to recognize Connecticut’s state song, “Yankee Doodle,” as Connecticut’s Stony Creek Drum Corps marched by. Flags, swords and the occasional explosion of gunpowder – from a rifle or cannon – punctuated the parade.
Bagpipes, kilts and sporrans, the Colonial Pipers Bagpipe Band of Boston, comprised primarily of young musicians, bore the American and the Irish flags.
To watch the U.S. Army band, and later the Warwick Police and Fire departments, march by, followed by their Cranston and East Greenwich colleagues, inspired pride and gratitude among the onlookers.
I felt a similar sense of pride and gratitude when I saw the Munroe Dairy Band, with milkmen dressed in white, and some fancy black and white polka dot uniforms as well, to coordinate with the cow.
The parade would not have been complete without the Shriners in their red fezzes and tiny cars, who zipped by at a child’s eye level.
From our vantage point, I was close enough to say “thank you” when I saw Warwick Mayor Frank Picozzi, Karen Kenney and others instrumental in bringing this year’s Gaspee Days Parade to town.
That morning in the crowd, I spotted my handyman, my milkman and my community police officer. Now, more and more, my new coast feels like home.