Spencer Parades

By Rosalie Tirella

The David Prouty High School Panthers – triumphant. photos: R.T.

This morning, as I was walking my pups in the center of town, we practically walked right into a Spencer parade. Another one! In less than five months! Spencer, I believe, is hot on parades: big town firetrucks – Spencer AND East Brookfield, police cruisers, tow trucks with long flat beds, all shiny and sparkling, rolling down Main Street. The American flag is painted on the tow trucks’ cabs, ropes of lights are strung along the truck beds, firetrucks all washed and hosed down, loud speakers are attached to the front of the trucks and hard rock ‘n’ roll is blaring out of the speakers. Fire truck sirens are flashing red and orange. Big-ass horns on big-ass trucks are honking. A tremendous cacophony of sound and sight is rolling down Main Street for all of us townspeople to admire, to get excited about!

The parade rolled down Main Street, through the center of town.

I stopped to wave at the people being honored in the parade – kids, high school boys – seated on folding metal chairs, lined up all in a row against the sides of the flat beds of two tow trucks, balloons and streamers in their school’s colors tied to the flat beds, the balloons bobbing up and down in the wind, the streamers hanging on for dear life. One of the boys, at the back, in the second flat bed, was waving a school flag. A few of the kids smiled back at us onlookers. The adults with them – three or four men, their coaches – looked happier than the kids! They were smiling and pointing and waving and just getting a kick out of the parade they were in. In their honor. The David Prouty Panthers – second place winners in the state basketball championship games. The “Dream Team” – the Panthers – being feted by the Town of Spencer for their prowess on the basketball court. For being great athletes. Their team, the only remaining undefeated boys’ basketball team in the state of Massachusetts. They had gone on to the finals, played valiantly against Taconic in the state final in Lowell, at the Tsongas Center.

The parade was small but sweet. Proud, too, and, unlike the last one I witnessed, not so very loud, it being a Sunday morning. I had stopped walking Jett and Lilac as the woman on the street corner waved to me and spoke to me with enthusiasm: Watch out for your dogs! A parade is coming right down Main Street!

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Lilac, left, with Cece. Lilac has been given lots of pats and hugs, courtesy of Spencer folks!

She seemed so pleased at the thought that I stood next to her on Main Street and waited with her for the parade to come. She was a nice lady, my age, who introduced herself, then patted Lilac’s head and said nice things to my dog. Lilac was thrilled and wagging her whole wiggly butt, planted herself right next to this lady, leaning smack up against her entire right leg. When the parade, led by a Spencer police cruiser, lights flashing, finally did come by, “Ann” snapped a few pictures with her cell phone and waved. So did I as I smiled at the basketball stars and their coaches. Pointing to the two sets of high school boys sitting on the tow trucks’ flat beds, Ann said, “It’s too early…They should have had it at 1, on a Saturday afternoon.” I agreed. More people would have been around to see them and to wave to the team. Maybe the excellent David Prouty High School marching band would have led the parade.

More of the team: good kids, terrific basketball players.

But I’m no parade expert. Spencer is. There’s another Spencer parade slated for next month – the town’s annual Memorial Day parade. I wonder if the big World War I (or II?) cannon sitting a block away in front of a Vet Post will make an appearance.

The high school kids, in this parade, were all about decorum. They sat politely on their chairs, a bit bemused…a few smiled at us onlookers and waved to us – we were only a handful so early on a weekend morning. There could have been more balloons and streamers in the school’s colors, but maybe the town was going to do more to celebrate the team later on this spring. Maybe the high school would honor them with an assembly in the school auditorium or host a spaghetti supper in the school cafeteria in their honor. The team will probably be in the Spencer Memorial Day parade, a parade when things will probably be a bit livelier … with more fanfare … more fans. I thought: These are good kids. Not loud and arrogant like some kids would be given their accomplishments. Triumphant – but modest.

The “Dream Team”!

This past Christmas there was the annual Spencer Christmas Parade – the big Spencer holiday celebration, which I also saw. It’s a mobile event the whole town comes out for: a long line of fire trucks, police cruisers, a ton of Ford pick-up trucks, Dodge Rams and other big trucks decked to the hilt with ropes of Christmas lights and flashing siren lights. No Christmas carols are sung, no Santa sits at the head of the parade … just lots of big trucks and MERRY CHRISTMAS, SPENCA! MERRY CHRISTMAS, SPENCA! blaring from the loudspeaker on the lead tow truck. Some guy – not a rolly polly Santa in his red velvet Santa suit – maybe the owner of the tow truck? – yells this over and over again to the crowd as the trucks slowly drive by. I watched the whole thing from my bedroom window last Christmas. It felt a little threatening, the BOOMING MERRY CHRISTMAS, SPENCA’s!, like YOU BETTER HAVE A GREAT CHRISTMAS, Rose! And where was baby Jesus, his parents, Mary and Joseph? Obviously, their humble manger wasn’t cool enough for the cool trucks. But I’m sure the parade wasn’t meant to intimidate. At least 30 humongous working vehicles made their way down Main, through the center of town, past this working-class town’s iconic hardware, appliance and catch-all Spags-like store, WHITCO. There were hundreds of townspeople lined on either sidewalk of Main Street, waving at the trucks and a few folks yelling Merry Christmas! Taking up half of Main Street with its three old buildings “hooked” together, sharing walls, Whitco made a depressing back drop to the Christmas parade, yet it has the plum spot on Main Street. A cute coffee shop or funky book store or artisan bakery or trendy clothing boutique doesn’t rest on our Main Street. Nope. Three old buildings plastered with old sale signs, sign after sale sign after sign, yellow and garish, covering all Whitco fronts, are our scenery. Are there Spencer signage rules the owners are flouting? No matter! The store is the heart and soul of Spencer – mobbed with customers every Saturday morning with scores of people rushing into the place to buy outdoor grills or refrigerators or stuff for their backyard chicken coops. I met a young woman who told me all about her chicken, Buttons. Besides laying superlative eggs, Buttons “knows her name. She comes when she’s called!” I told the young woman I wish Lilac would come when she’s called. The young woman stooped to give Lilac a big hug.

I had just moved to Spencer in September, and as I looked out my window that cold December night, my breath fogging up the window pane before me…as I watched the Spencer Christmas parade, the high point of Christmas in Spencer, from my apartment, warm salty tears fell down my face. The dreadful horn honking went on for a half hour. The trucks were nice but not … Christmas-y. There was no Christmas music or Christmas creche or even Santa Claus. I think there may have been a Christmas Queen waving to the big crowd from a big truck, but that was it. It felt like there was no Christmas in Spencer. No town holiday lights were strung along the lampposts on Main Street. No town Christmas tree. No Christmas wreaths hung on the doors of most of the small businesses. And everyone, including the Christmas queen, seemed to be wearing the lightest of fall jackets. And as I looked out my window, roused out of a restless sleep on my bed, startled by all the horn honking and siren screeching, I saw below me Pottersville, right out of the old James Stewart movie, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Before George Bailey (Stewart) wakes up from his nightmare and his town is back to its old sparkly decorated cute Christmas self. Then I saw in the Spencer crowd a little girl (was she four years old? five?) sitting on her dad’s shoulders to better see the Christmas parade. She was wearing a pink fall jacket and watching the parade intently and giggling and having a great ol’ time. She wasn’t wearing a hat or mittens or gloves on this harshest of country winter nights, and yet here she was, waving to beat the band, positively ecstatic. So I cried even harder! She and her father looked so poor! They seemed so nice! Would the little girls’ tiny fingers get frost bitten?! What kind of apartment did she and her family live in? Was it safe and warm inside?

The Spencer PD always leads the parade!

Here it is spring time and I’m not crying over a Spencer parade. I am seeing it for what it is: a town, a poorer town in rich Massachusetts, coming together, neighbor to neighbor, friend to friend, family member to family member, finding joy in what is given to them, taking part in a community tradition, the town parade … living in their moment in their town, making another memory for themselves in their place, their home, their beloved Spencer.