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Stepping Into the Parade

Woodbury welcomes the change of season with the annual Fall Festival Parade, celebrating community, tradition and all things local.

“If you’re not in the parade, you watch the parade. That’s life.”

—Mike Ditka

When I was in high school, my major goal in life was to get away from home. I wanted to go as far as I could, as fast as I can, and couldn’t wait to leave small town New Jersey behind. When I was choosing a college, I had two criteria—money (as in how much financial aid?) and miles (as in how far?)

Which is why it’s a bit ironic that I’m back here in my hometown, and have been for most of my adult life. In fact, the only house I’ve ever owned is two blocks from the house where I grew up. And although I still have a bit of wanderlust in me, I am quite content raising my children in the same neighborhood I spent my childhood. In fact, I kinda like that the traditions I had, the things I grew up with to mark special milestones and changes of season, are the same ones they are discovering now. Sharing simple pleasures seems so much richer when I can say, “I did this when I was your age.”

That’s what I was saying to my daughter this weekend, when she decided she wanted to participate in the annual Woodbury Fall Festival parade. It was a last-minute decision on her part. We had planned on being spectators, but when Libby learned she could walk down Broad Street with her friends at Royal Dance Academy even though she missed the rehearsal, she jumped at the chance.

So on Saturday, we hurried to put together an '80s-esque exercise costume, which seemed popular with many of the groups marching in the parade this year. The theme was “Health and Exercise,” and I don’t know if the '80s was the epitome of healthy decades, but it seemed like more than one group donned leg warmers, headbands and ripped sweatshirts, a la Olivia Newton-John in the “Physical” video or Jennifer Beals in Flashdance.

Other celebrities made their way down the parade route as well. Casa Dance Studio had “Richard Simmons” leading their exercise routine. Sparky the Fire Dog waved to his fans from between two Billingsport fire trucks, painted an unexpected blue. A handful of politicians opened the parade, waving from their convertibles or walking behind to shake a hand or two. And The Cat in the Hat helped carry a banner for Belilia and Sons.

After dropping Libby off at Colonial Avenue, where the various groups were lining up for Saturday night’s walk, my husband and I joined the parade route across from Woodbury Hardware. From our spot on the curb, we cheered on high school marching bands, hometown princesses, scout troops and fire trucks. Once Royal reached us, we joined the parade ourselves, walking up that hill on Broad Street to the judges’ stand outside the Comcast building.

And as I walked, I waved to some friends and took in the scenery, at once achingly familiar yet somehow painted new. This is what I grew up with, this is all I know of home and community and tradition.

When you’re facing autumn, it’s nice to have memories of the summer just past. And fortunately, we don’t have to go far away from home to find them.

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