Last night was the Parade of Lights in our small, farming community of Brighton. We’d been once before, but not for many years. Last time it was so cold the soles of my feet went numb. But we had reason to go again this year: my husband helped build and electrify the local Boys and Girls Club float, with the apt appellation “Reaching for the Stars.” So, we pulled on long underwear before our blue jeans, stuffed our woolen socks inside Sorels, grabbed hats, scarves and heavy gloves, and squeezed our swollen selves into the car.
We parked a few blocks away and walked over in the brisk evening air. People we didn’t know spoke to us – about the cold and finding parking, not complaining, just making conversation. It was that kind of night. I knew it was destined when we arrived just as the lead police car came into sight.
The parade route moves southward along Main, then makes a sharp turn east on Bridge Street, where the floats seem to go straight on forever (or to Kansas, which is nearly the same). We wended our way along Bridge looking for our spot. People packed both sides, astonishing us – we had no idea we had so many neighbors out here where the lots are in acres.
We crossed the railroad tracks, one of the main north-south lines in the West, and I noticed a small girl playing there. I shivered at the thought of a train barreling through. Peering down the track I saw the bright lights of what looked like an engine, and said that they must’ve cancelled the trains. My husband stated, “The train stops for no one – they were here first.” I pondered that as we moved on through the crowd.
The first floats were right behind us so we hurried to pick a spot. A small opening along the street beckoned and I headed for it. Busy looking up at the blazing colors oozing toward us, I didn’t notice the over-sized Rottweiler with a homemade collar of the biggest chain I’d ever seen taking up residence there. His owner gripped the chain close to the great expanse of the dog’s neck. No wonder there was an open spot here, I said to myself as my skin pricked under all my layers.
My husband, dogman, soon was greeting the beast with his hand turned palm in, as all dog people do. The dog seemed nonplussed. I positioned myself with my husband between me and HIM.
The parade was coming on fast now, with marching bands doing jazzy renditions of Silent Night and Jingle Bells, followed by cheerleaders in not-enough clothes, shrieking out unintelligible cheers, their purple metallic pompoms glistening under the street lights.
The floats were dragged along by gargantuan dual-lies pumping out noxious diesel exhaust under cover of pretty lights. About every other float was sponsored by a church – the Methodists, the Baptists, the Catholics, and a variety of other unspecified Christians all made their appearance. Some had Santa back there, others had bunches of cold-looking kids and boisterous moms waving and yelling “MerryChristmas!” Only one had a manger, with Mary wrapped in a light blue sheet over a down coat, which made her look more like a snowman than the Blessed Virgin. The best of these for me was the charming rendering of Brighton’s historic chapel, complete with bell tower, lit from within. A classic Chevy truck, diminutive by comparison, led it sweetly down the street.
Just then we heard the tones of what sounded like Middle Eastern music, and we craned our necks to see what was coming. Behind the idling trucks and stampedes of majorettes, the sound of the music grew. And then we saw them. Two enormous flags waving: one US and one Israeli. The Jews were in the parade! My husband was raised Jewish, and I knew it was the first night of Hanukkah. I’d liked the idea of the Parade of Lights taking place on the first night of the Festival of Light, but I didn’t think we’d see that represented in the Brighton parade. You see, Brighton is a bit of a relic. It sits just 15 miles north of Denver, a major urban hub, but looks pretty much like it did in the ’50s – a small town of old white farm families and second generation Mexican immigrants who both share a clear agreement about Jesus.
As the truck with the flags came toward us, I spotted the over-sized Menorah lighting up everything from its place in the truck bed. And a dozen people dressed in flowing purple pants waved more banners as they danced down the road. How proud I was of our little town of Brighton’s hat tip to religious plurality!
Next up were the corporate-sponsored floats, with amply strung lights covering Home Depot’s rig. But their electricity wasn’t working, so it slinked by in shadow. “They should’ve called my husband,” I thought, noting the bitter irony. But Remax pulled off just the right mix of advertising and good fun by sporting ridiculous candy cane hats made of wire that bounced high above the wearers heads as they went by.
A baying hound, goats, a camper colossus, acrobats and a “monster” antique firetruck with wheels as tall as me all came along. Horses donning lights, evergreen boughs, ribbons and riders skittered along here and there, while bundled-up walkers handed out candy to the kids.
From a decked out golf cart, one lady bountiful threw palm-sized stuffed animals to the crowd. Just as I wondered where she kept them all, a monolithic dump truck came up behind her, with a man inside it tossing down grocery bags stuffed with the little furries. Pointing at the golf cart, my husband shouted “We should decorate our riding mower and enter next year!” In my enthusiasm, I thought it sounded like fun.
All the while, I kept my eye on the Rottweiler, straining against his chain to get at the poor, unsuspecting goats, his master scolding him gruffly. I hoped he’d had his supper.
And then the Boys and Girls Club float came around the corner – its delicate white stars seemed to dance in the breeze as it made its way toward us. I noticed the last-minute addition of sunglasses adorning its top – the teenage interpretation of “reaching for the stars” clashing with my own more Heavenly one. We yelled and cheered as it went by, every light lit and every star staying put. I felt my husband sigh with relief as a phalanx of tiny clubbers covered in cardboard, glittery star cut-outs followed behind his feat.
The best in show though was a cement mixer so-carefully adorned in lights I marveled at just whose handiwork it could be. The rotund mixer’s strands of red and white lights made it look like a huge candy cane. The Rottweiler’s master and I cheered loudly for the effort, and a guy walking beside it called out to us proudly “20,000 lights!” We were stunned and took a closer look.
A guy next to Rottweiler-Man noted they could’ve used a few more on the back of the mixer truck, which I saw was indeed dark in a few places. To this, R-Man replied dryly, “Yea, twenty-one thousand lights would’ve been better.”
I don’t know what it was – the cold sinking in, the simple beauty of lights in the dark night, the camaraderie of community, the train waiting for a small town’s parade, or a little boy in a too-big hat – but that just struck me funny, and I laughed.
As I did, that gigantic dog nuzzled his enormous head against my leg. I reached down and pet him.