What's a little rain -- when it stays up in the air, that is. Preparing for a predicted rainfall, paradegoers for the 52nd Annual Newtown Labor Day Parade, Monday, September 2, set up not only chairs along the parade route, but a number of portable tents, as well. Raincoats and umbrellas were stashed nearby, just in case the rumble of marchers turned into the rumble of thunder.
But Mother Nature took mercy on the multitudes lining the parade route from the top of Main Street to its finish on Queen Street, holding off her downpour until the final moments of the parade. A brief midparade shower had umbrellas blossoming like flowers, only to be quickly put away when the sun decided to play hide-and-seek.
Prior to the 10 am start of the parade, feelings about the 2013 parade ran from exuberant to tentative.
The exuberance was clear with the younger members of the town, as voiced by several filling up on pancakes Monday morning at the Newtown Congregational Church "Pancakes and Parking" event.
"Candy! I like getting candy" was the universal response from 6-year-olds Lauren Murphy and Sadie Baimel, as well as 5-year-old Maddy Gioiele. Camryn Williamson added that she liked the balloons and music.
For 9-year-old Naiya Amin, seated curbside on Main Street and surrounded by colorful balloons, it was the floats and "the little cars," she was looking forward to seeing. Andrew Lucas, 8 years old, put the old-fashioned tractors and the Army vehicles in first place, with the little Shriners cars named as his second favorite.
"I want to see how they fit in there," mused Andrew, about the Shriners car drivers.
Many adults had tempered expectations for Newtown's 2013 end-of-summer parade, just nine months after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
"It's a community feel," was a common sentiment voiced, with one gentleman saying he thought more people were turning out to support the town as much as to watch the parade.
"I think we're still recovering, but looking forward to each other's company," said Meg Amin. Her sentiment was echoed by Newtown native Dave Barrett and wife, Dawn. "I think you'll see more community today," commented Ms Barrett.
Midway between the flagpole and the intersection of Route 302, a Rockywood Drive neighborhood group from Sandy Hook set up tents, as it has for many years, feasting on coffee, fruit sticks, made-to-order omlettes, pancakes, and sausage to celebrate the end of summer.
Further down the street, Marcia Sellner, who grew up in Newtown, wondered if the parade would be different this year. "I'm hoping for happiness and a normal day, with no sadness," she said.
Kelley Johnson, another Newtown native, looked forward to a parade with a positive spin, as well, but could not help wondering if she would see [former state representative] Mae Schmidle riding by on an elephant again. "That was in the 1970s," said Kelley, "but I'm still hoping!"
Ellsworth Stringer has watched the parade come down Main Street for at least 40 years, he said. "This one will be bittersweet. We have tissues on hand," he said. "It's a good experience, but it will be a little sad," Mr Stringer suspected.
Pam Arsenault reflected on her feelings, moments before the parade crested the top of Main Street.
"I'm very hopeful. It's important to do the things we do, year after year, but this year we've been changed. There's a profound sense of gratitude; and sometimes, out of a profound sadness," said Ms Arsenault, "comes gratitude. What a community!"
On Queen Street, where the reviewing stand was set up, Kevin and Christine Yacko and their son Thomas kept the American flag raised from a bucket truck parked near Newtown Color Center where the procession finishes up.
Antique cars, marching bands, martial arts demonstrations, civic groups, and more passed before crowds filling the sidewalks and front lawns on the parade route. A blue tractor pulled a Sandy Hook Equine Assisted Therapy float past friends Emily Toth and Jillian Archer, who stopped to pose for a photo near The Pleasance. Near the sign for Ram Pasture were Calli, Shane, and Hunter Smith who wrapped their arms around one another's shoulders for a picture. Alaina Ambrosio, Lindsay Myer, and Riley Ragan waved at the fire companies members marching by, and soon watched the Wells Fargo horse-drawn wagon roll by.
"Duck!" was the shout as the Ducks of Sandy Hook School float passed, a command with more than one meaning as those marchers showered paradegoers with thousands of the tiny rubber ducks that had brought smiles to the faces of so many over the past school year. Officer Todd Keeping, of the Monroe Police Department, found himself with a surplus of ducks at the end of the school year and decided to share the joy with all of the community on Monday. Just as the silly quackers had brightened last winter's days, Monday's rainfall -- of ducks -- added sunshine to an otherwise often cloudy morning.
Longtime attendees of the Newtown Labor Day Parade were treated to several new additions to the 2013 parade, including the Bethel High School Marching Band, the Marching Cobras drum line band, rockin' music from the Doug Wahlberg's Night of Music float and the White-Eyed Lizard Band, or funky music from the Bernadettes. A more than usual number of decorated floats drifted down the streets, and children scurried along the roadside collecting the requisite handfuls of candy tossed out.
Emma Wologodzew raised a handheld bubble maker and laughed as the soapy spheres drifted into the air near the intersection of Glover Avenue, where the parade turned a sharp left after coming down Main Street.
Newtown High School cheerleaders stretched across the street, laughing, while two or three girls would break from the row and do a backflip or cartwheel. Young Ethan Kravec watched them march by from beneath his red, white, and blue Uncle Sam hat, holding a sign saying "Thank You." On his handmade sign were colored marker drawings of emergency vehicles.
The Newtown Police Department Honor Guard and all of Newtown's first responders were greeted by rousing applause. Fire trucks answered the pumping of arms from their fans with the occasional blast of the horn.
But it was the sight of the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue Company and the Sandy Hook Elementary School marchers that brought people to their feet, cheering, clapping, whistling, and in many instances, wiping tears from their eyes.
"It's heartwarming and moving. I cried the whole time," admitted Lisa Bell, who was there with neighbors from Sandy Hook.
From 4-month-old Violet Cesaszar, enjoying her first parade from Grandpa Dan Koepf's lap, to Skip and Jeane Roberts, who have witnessed every one of the 52 parades, Newtown residents, friends, and families celebrated together, verifying this year's parade theme: "We are Newtown: Marching Strong."
"It was just an amazing day," said Labor Day Parade Committee President Beth Caldwell, Tuesday morning, including the fact that Monday's deluge of rain held off until the afternoon. "We had more participants and a greater variety of marchers. We have already had such great feedback from participants and viewers. We wanted to offer people a chance to embrace Sandy Hook, the first responders, and the community. It was an acknowledgement that we're all going to be okay," she said.
"Whether it was being in [the parade], or viewing it, it was," said Ms Caldwell, "a beautiful day."
This story has been updated from the version that appeared Monday, September 3.