Red, white and true

Keystone Heights proudly celebrates patriotism, belonging at its annual parade

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KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – Hungry patrons usually keep Clyde’s Cozy Corner Café hopping on a Saturday morning, filling their appetites with an assortment of made-to-order omelets and heaping plates of biscuits and gravy.

But the restaurant was empty last Saturday.

Although the streets were bustling with residents, a big “Closed” sign hung in the front window. One of the most popular eateries in the Lakes Region only closes for special events – and the annual Fourth of July weekend parade is one of the biggest.

“Nobody complains,” said Clyde’s cashier Glenda Morris. “We don’t ever open on parade day. A lot of us were out in the parade.”

Keystone Heights may not have the amenities of the big city. Maybe that’s why many believe it’s more than just a place to live. It’s home.

The little city among the lakes may lack in nightlife, fancy restaurants and expansive shopping centers, but it has something far more important – a grounded sense of belonging.

This year’s theme for the Fourth of July parade was “Our Country Day.” The hundreds who lined the downtown streets, however, didn’t need a reason to wave flags and wear their red, white and blue.

“People always find something to complain about,” said Heather Ham as she waited for the parade to make its way down Lawrence Boulevard. “We don’t. We love our country. And we won’t live in fear.”

The parade, which was held on July 3 as part of a nine-day Independence celebration, was a testament to everything good about this country. Children and parents waved at Clay County Sheriff’s Deputies as they worked crosswalks and flashed their blue lights at the front of the parade. Children screamed with excitement when penny candy was tossed from the parade vehicles.

This year’s celebration also included a baby crawl race, watermelon-eating contest, a 5K run and volleyball tournament. Of course, everyone then was invited to spend the rest of the afternoons at the city’s lakefront beach. Hot dogs weren’t included.

Neither was divisiveness.

On parade day, woke meant getting out of bed, not a political position. CRT meant cooking ribs tomorrow on July 4, not a reason to substitute education for indoctrination. It wasn’t about being Republican or Democrat. It was about being a friend and neighbor. Everyone was a brother or a sister. There were no agendas, posturing or finger-pointing.

Outsiders were encouraged to leave their politics at the city line.

Shienne Mackinnon was visiting from Michigan. She wore a funny headpiece with firework bursts. But on this sun-splashed morning, she was a neighbor. She was family.

“This is a lot more interesting,” she said while comparing Keystone Heights with her home state.

Brendon Browning, Kennedy Polk and Jalon Gray watched with their mother, Alisha Gray, and grandmother, Cindy Russell. For Alisha, it marked the 35th time she’s joined her mother for the parade. Now she plans to carry on the tradition with her own children.

“I’ve been coming here since I was a baby,” Alisha said. “This is one of the highlights of our year. This is what living in a small town is all about.”

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade has its huge balloon animals, the Rose Parade has its flowers and Mardi Gras has its beads and debauchery.

Keystone Heights had patriotic-decorated lawnmowers, fire engines, a motorcycle club and miniature cars being driven by Shriners.

I’ll take Keystone Heights, thank you.

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