It is easy to take an event for granted until…


Fourth of July parade in Harbor Springs Michigan

For the past 35 years I have spent summers in northern Michigan. Since I retired this meant the whole summer. The small town has a year-around population of approximately 1,500. In summer, the population triples or maybe quadruples. But there is a special time when there are many more.

Celebrating the birthday of our nation packs the town with visitors. When it comes to the Fourth of July, the town issues a standing invitation – “Y’all come”, and they do. As many as 20,000 and some say even 25,000 new people come to town for the day. A few arrive early, others stay after, with the peak of attendance on the 4th. Why do all these people come?

There are four events put on by the locals. All take place within easy walking distance. The day starts around 8:00 am with a running/walking 5K event. At 10:00 am the art fair opens and lasts until late afternoon. At about noon the quintessential small-town parade begins. It typically starts with members of the American Legion, VFW, and Boy Scouts marching in groups. High school bands and bag pipe troops fill the air with stirring sounds. The district’s congressman waves from the back of a convertible loaned by a local car dealer. Antique cars weave through the parade driven by proud owners who are older than their cars. Farm tractors pull floats sponsored by the town’s merchants. One float holds a group of performers from a summer camp. They belt out songs from Broadway musicals.

The parade winds for 3 miles and nearly every inch of both sides of the route is crammed with spectators who are two or three deep at least. To be sure they get a good view many people place their own chairs at the curbside hours before the start. But there is space for everyone because public areas are abundant.

Taking a breather in the afternoon or lingering at the art fair, families anticipate the crowning glory of the day. This is the fireworks display that begins at sundown. A barge anchored at the head of the Bay has been floating in anticipation. It promises to launch skyward another spectacular display in a few hours.

But first, families and friends gather to prepare food for a picnic. These are simple spreads on a blanket or around a table with coolers and portable grills. Others are on a patio or balcony and some are in elegant homes. Wherever, the menus are simple and typically “American”.  Hamburgers, hot dogs, pulled pork, chicken wings, potato salad, corn on the cob, all topped off with slices of watermelon, are served with a favorite drink.

After a full day, about 10:00 o’clock when it is fully dark, the fireworks begin. The thrilled crowd exclaims with “oh’s” and “ahs”. People turn to neighbors and say, “These are even better than last year”. Boaters in the harbor honk their horns and people cheer as each new display shoots skyward. Then the grand finale.

Shortly before 11:00 PM it is all over. Party supplies are packed, and autos fill with revelers. They file out of town, snail-like at first, then moving more freely. By midnight, the town is back to its midsummer population.

This time-honored event has continued each year for as long as the oldest resident can remember. But not this year. It did not happen. The virus won a battle that nobody wanted to fight. But we had to. The town and would be visitors responded in the only way they could. Organizers cancelled with regret and those who planned to come stayed home instead with family hoping that next year would be back to normal.


By Savvy Senior

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3 thoughts on “Remembering the Birthday Party that Wasn’t

  1. Beautiful and emotional yearly celebration. We can enjoy the party as you recount it so well and we certainly empathize with the organizers, the townspeople and the many visitors that did the right thing by cancelling. We trust that for 2021 the 4th of July will be totally healthy and we can all celebrate with joy. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Good story! Thank you for sharing. A great place to celebrate the 4th of July. The celebration of the Independence Day is a very special birthday that we celebrate always with pride. This year was a sad day . We have also missed several family reunions because of the pandemia.

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