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It happens every year around this time - the official club house of the Cherryfield Chowder and Marching Society becomes a veritable beehive of activity. That's because the 161-year-old Cherryfield society is the official sponsor of the riverside town's annual Fourth of July Parade – rated the largest 4th of July parade (per-capita) in the nation, according to NPR – National Parade Raters, LLC.
The Society was founded by a group of local businessmen who liked sharing the simple pleasure of sitting down to steaming bowls of chowder - clam, fish or corn. Like most organizations, they evolved and eventually added marching to the mix. After enjoying a steaming bowl of chowder members would stand and begin marching around the tables. Soon, band instruments and uniforms were procured and they became the Cherryfield Chowder and Marching Society Band.
Then, in July of 1863, after a particularly good lunch of fish chowder, the members threw the door's to their clubhouse open and began marching down Main Street and the Cherryfield 4th of July Parade was born. For the townspeople of Cherryfield it was a jaw-dropping experience and society members have been dropping jaws ever since with their precision marching and brilliant instrumentation.
Now the historic parade has not only an annual Grand Marshall, but the Society member in charge of the parade is humbly known as Cherryifeld's Commander-in-Chief. As such he directs a small but disciplined army of chairmen and co-chairmen assigned to each of the parade's 80-90 units.
After every successful parade - and they claim they haven't had a dud yet - Cherryfield Chowder and Marching Society organizers - known as 'chowder-heads' – will immediately begin planning for next year's parade when this year’s parade ends.
But recently word has leaked out that they really don't start doing any such thing. Mostly what they do is go down to their club house, drink vast quantities of sudsy adult beverages, play cards and watch DVDs.
Fact is the town's venerable parade is so old that it almost plans itself but organizers still insist on getting together at the clubhouse for more and more 'planning' sessions. Most town organizations have been working with the Chowderheads so long and have known their place in the parade for so many years they could line themselves up blindfolded.
Despite all this, the day after each parade the chowder-heads will gather at their clubhouse and “plan.”
Because Cherryfield is so small and its parade is so large, by the time the chowder-heads get all the members of the American Legion, the Legion Auxiliary, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and their Auxiliary, the Volunteer Fire Department and their Auxiliary, the Mason's, the Knight's of Columbus, Odd Fellows, Eagles, Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, DAR, Job's Daughters, Gold Star Mothers, Eastern Star, the High School Band, Middle School Band, Elementary School Band, Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, Brownies, Campfire Girls, Little League, Babe Ruth League, T-Ball, Farm Team - all stretched out along Main Street, they say there's no one left to watch the parade. That spectacular parade - the largest 4th of July Parade in Maine (per capita) - will go marching through the middle of town and there's never a soul on the sidewalk to see it.
It was so discouraging that the town's people finally hired a cameraman from the public access group in Milbridge to tape the parade. After the parade, everyone gathers at the town hall, the cameraman rewinds the tape and all get to watch the whole parade on Ed Beal's 52-inch plasma TV, which he trucks to the town hall for the occasion.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at mainestoryteller@yahoo.com or 899-1868.
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