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Strike up the big brass band in Palo Alto

Greenmeadow residents' July Fourth parade is a neighborhood tradition

With the twirl of batons and a brigade of homemade floats, Greenmeadow residents of all ages and sizes will join together for a more than 50-year-old neighborhood tradition: the Greenmeadow Fourth of July parade.

Families throughout the neighborhood will dust off their red, white and blue costumes, polish their musical instruments and don their straw hats; and as in the classic song, "I Love a Parade," they'll tramp their feet and follow the beat of a drum.

This Eichler neighborhood celebration, which resident Ellen Springer said is like "Christmas for Greenmeadow," is the most exciting event in the neighborhood all year. One month before the big holiday, the air is filled with a joyful anticipation.

"You start hearing these noises in the neighborhood. This is music; a band is rehearsing one time a week. It's lovely. You know what it is," Springer said.

That's just the beginning. Young marchers practice their batons and 6-year-olds don matching outfits. There are bikes, trikes and skateboards, and people of all generations who take to the street.

"It's very grassroots. People come down there with costumes and floats; people just come out of homes and assemble," Springer said.

Before the parade, there are footraces and a triathlon for kids; the latter includes using the Greenmeadow Community Association pool. Judges bestow awards for contests in every category, from decorated bikes to costumes, floats and athletic events, and kids have a chance to participate and get a ribbon.

Springer, who moved to the neighborhood five years ago, recalled the joy she felt growing up in a small Massachusetts town, which also had a big celebratory event. It created many lasting memories.

"This is very similar to how I grew up. I can remember being a kid and getting that ribbon," she said.

Karen Pauls, a nine-year resident, said 400 to 500 people attend. About 300 take part in the parade, with 35 to 50 in the band. Girl Scouts carry the Greenmeadow banner, and people dress up their pets.

But the biggest excitement is over the floats, Pauls said. Based on a particular theme that changes annually, families build the non-motorized floats out of paper mache and other materials. Some are quite whimsical.

"There was a Wilbur the Pig -- a really big one. Some are big enough for eight to 10 kids to sit on them," she said.

The annual themes can help kids get into thinking about a particular subject. Previous years' parades featured the Olympics, the theme "America Strong," environmentalism and animals. Last year's theme was "Water wise"; this year it's "African safari," she said.

Over the years, the parade has changed very little. Little girls still comprise the drill team dressed in mid-20th-century outfits, and adults wear old-fashioned flat hats. The band is still the centerpiece, she said.

The parade is the anchor event for the whole year, Pauls said.

"It brings back people who grew up here and moved away. They come back, and they bring their grandkids. It's an extended-family-reunion weekend."

For Springer, the Greenmeadow parade is an opportunity to forge new relationships and strengthen existing ones.

"Everybody has this busy life in Silicon Valley," she said. "At the parade, people meet people that they've never met before."

As always, Palo Alto's mayor will attend. The parade is open to the public and begins at 11 a.m. near 303 Parkside Drive. A picnic in the park afterward is open to Greenmeadow residents only.

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