The event of the summer when I was a kid was Jubilee Days. Scheduled for the second weekend in July, it was an appetizer for Frontier Days over the hill in our sister city of Cheyenne. Laramie Jubilee Days originated in 1940 as a tribute to Wyoming’s 50 years of statehood. Decked out in party gear, the town throbbed with excitement and anticipation for weeks prior to the opening ceremony.
Jubilee Days was both a thrill and a horror. The rodeos, the chariot races, the pancake feed, and the carnival were hallmarks of summer. But the parades—dear God, the parades. There were two; the Pet Parade for kids and the big parade for the entire community. Looking back through the mist of years, the Pet Parade was probably one of the more clever things my town embarked upon. Children, from toddlers to about 12, vied for prizes as they strutted their stuff while dragging or being dragged down Grand Street by their favorite pet. The variety of critters that qualified as pets was amazing. Kids might pair up with anything from a hamster to a Clydesdale. I benefited from a wide range of possibilities, given my family’s menagerie.
|Me with bonus pet; foal tagging along 1963|
In the weeks prior to the event, I basked in attention as we pondered and strategized over my costume. It was often my older sister who dreamed up the theme for my appearance and integrated that theme with whichever animal I would show off as my pet. I might be dressed as anything from Cinderella to a grizzled gold miner and I might be paired with a cat, a dog, a sheep, a donkey, or a horse. It’s surprising that I never marched down the street with a coyote trotting at my heels, because, yah, for a while we had one of those, too. But that’s another story.
Mother sewed my costumes. Sister painted my face and dressed the animal of the year in its requisite gear. I was fine with everything up to this point. But once my critter and I were both dressed, we had to get to the starting point of the parade before our costumes raveled or collapsed. Then, I had to walk down the street with hundreds of eyes spearing me. Months later, I’d hear from the kids at school about my tutu or my tin man’s foil. Possibly my critics were jealous because I think I frequently won awards for most unique or best made costume or biggest pet. But I hated being on display.
And the spectacle did not end there, because the next day I had to join my mother and sister as we three rode together with our matching outfits and nearly matching horses in the “big” parade. Mother was a sucker for Western kitsch. Each year she bought or sewed matching pants and shirts for the three of us. I cringed in these pearl-buttoned, yoked and darted outfits with more fancy stitching than the Queen of England’s coronation gown. I felt garish and green. These were the outfits of dudes and cheap movie stars, not of cowboys.
And it didn’t help that we were usually riding three white horses in a community where white horses looked as out of place as the Queen of England would have looked on Grand Avenue in Laramie, Wyoming. To further fray the nerves, I fretted about the risks of riding a horse over slick, unforgiving pavement through crowds of noisy people with balloons and baby strollers; strange horses, ponies, and mules; masonic clowns on tiny scooters; motorized floats with flapping streamers and music; and an occasional firecracker left over from the 4th of July.
But nothing drastic ever happened to any of us or our horses while we marched through the streets of downtown Laramie. Down the road of life I can see the benefits of these trials. These experiences desensitized me to the fear of crowds and being on display much like countless swimming lessons helped me to control my fear of water. I’m still no drama queen, but I can master my willies if it is absolutely necessary that I take center stage.
I suspect that one of my gentle readers will gaze over my shoulder and declare that I have it all wrong, that what I have described is not the way it was. But this, folks, is my story. This—right or wrong—is how I remember the events and this is the way I have processed those events. The same events described through a different pair of eyes and fingers will be an equally interesting story. Really, we are walking, breathing stories, each as unique as a fingerprint. Finding and articulating those stories is what this endeavor is all about.