July 4, 2020, was a quiet day In Shell Rock, Iowa. In a town that draws thousands to celebrate Independence Day with a robust parade, and later at night with a spectacular fireworks show, the festivities were canceled due to the coronavirus.
For as long as can be remembered, the Independence Day parade has attracted area participants and spectators to this tightly-knit midwestern town straddling the Shell Rock River.
It is a reunion of sorts, not just for families, who plan it out a whole year in advance, but also for neighbors and classmates and long-time friends, who see each other once a year or every day.
It is the place to be on July 4 around here.
It is an institution and a tradition that goes back in time.
A typical Shell Rock parade looks and feels like this:
Elbow-to-elbow packed families pack on both sides of Cherry Street, the main drag in town, some lounging in folding chairs, others sitting on blankets on the grass or on the curbside.
Cute babies, typically dressed in super tiny patriotic outfits, toddlers in big dark glasses, grandmas and grandpas and uncles and cousins and in-laws and water-drenched siblings, and honking classic cars, and moms cheering their daughters on the dance team, and fans clapping on as the live music float of the Shell Rock Music Association rolls by, and some more "atta girls" for the little gymnasts doing cartwheels on the floats and on the sweltering road with mind-blowing dexterity and shouts of joy as kids rush to grab the flying candy that cascades from rolled down floats, hits the street like small, sporadic hail and then ends up in hundreds of small hands and plastic bags, enough for a whole year of snacks, and yes, the well-behaving pups that sit on laps under the umbrellas and cringe at the sound of the blaring horns.
All of this was gone today.
It was quiet.
The flag display hanging from a crane on the edge of the bridge and the patriotic decorations on the streets and alongside the Shell Rock Cafe's fence, were stark reminders of what was missing today.
But one family at least held a small parade of their own, and I happened to be right there to capture the moment.