Celebrating independence and small-town America

Jun. 28, 2014 @ 12:07 PM

An airplane, flown by native son Brad Walker, begins the annual rite of passage to celebrating Independence Day in Caldwell. Here, there is a fire station, a church parking lot, an intersection, Handy Andy’s store, and one-mile of travel by whatever means to celebrate the 4th of July in Caldwell.
Located, at the intersection of Highway 57 and Guess Road, the annual Caldwell 4th of July parade is a celebration of our nation’s free personality and reflected in what is brought to the parade.
The parade, which began in the mid-1980s and once was featured on “Good Morning America” as the smallest 4th of July Parade in the United States, is a reminder of things good and wholesome, and how a community can be sewn together.
There are tractors and classic cars; Norman Walker usually passes out his sunflowers to people along the way. There are horses and kids on bikes and go-karts and four-wheelers and a proper amount of John Deere equipment and trucks and pulled-trailers with spirited themes.
Most people know each other or are related, and strangers are made to feel welcome, even if they only come here for this annual event. For many years, Jimmy Hamlin, a noted fixture of the community, was responsible for staging the participant line and orchestrating when a kid on a bike would go or a fire truck or a 1957 restored Chevrolet. “I did that for years and I really enjoyed it,” Hamlin said of being the informally named grand marshal of the parade.
In the parking lot of the Caldwell Fire department, participants reunite and admire what others bring to the parade. Red, white, and blue streamers are taped, tied, secured or held to just about anything that has wheels and can be driven, pulled, towed or pushed.
At the intersection, people amass and Phillip Walker typically greets participants with his loudspeaker to introduce them to parade watchers. For 20 seconds, the parade participants achieve Caldwell fame before proceeding along the route, as people cheer and laugh and celebrate the moment and the flavor of independence and community.
Beginning at 10 a.m. Friday, a very small sampling of the image of freedom and community and celebration will head to Caldwell to stage a parade.
When Walker floats his airplane along Guess Road, signaling the beginning of what was known as the smallest parade in the country, it is actually the loud, diverse, patriotic, people-driven sound of independence and freedom that is heard not just at an intersection, but around this entire world.

Have a feature or story idea for Jason Hawkins, email him at hawkinsoutdoors@msn.com.