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Fourth of July parades bring friends and families together

For Mark Silvestri, Independence Day felt like "Christmas in July."

Silvestri, 60, said he has been coming to the annual Catonsville Fourth of July parade since the 1960s — missing it only three times.

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He sits in the same spot near Hillcrest Elementary School with his family and friends each year to watch the red- white-and-blue-decked floats, bands and politicians strut by.

"It's a tradition that's hung on through the years in a way that many traditions don't," Silvestri said. "I hope it'll always be here."

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That sense of tradition is what brought many people out in 90-degree heat to celebrate July Fourth with family and friends at community celebrations throughout the region.

Early Tuesday evening, there was a lively crowd in Baltimore's Inner Harbor several hours before the sky had begun to darken or any music had begun to play.

The Pride of Baltimore II, a replica of an 1812-era schooner, rocked gently to and fro while the oversize American flag hanging from its mast — stars, stripes and the original 13 stars — was visible blocks away. A woman wearing a necklace made of blinking red, white and blue stars leaned on a cane. People waited patiently in a seemingly endless line for their chance to ride a dragon paddleboat.

Rachelle Jones has been coming to the Inner Harbor with her four children for 14 years. She was looking forward to the performance of the U.S. Navy's band Commodores. It's also an opportunity for her children to interact positively with the police officers and state troopers providing security.

"They really make an effort to talk to the kids," said Jones, 37, who lives in Sandtown-Winchester. "They're always happy to pose for a picture with them."

In Dundalk, Gia Dennis' relatives have spent Independence Day the same way for so many years that they don't even coordinate their plans. They just know to meet on the stretch of Dundalk Avenue where they've been gathering for years.

"The Fourth of July is my favorite holiday just for this reason," said Dennis, 32, as she looked out at the 15 family members around her.

Ed Eacho hasn't missed a Dundalk Fourth of July parade since 1944. The 79-year-old Navy veteran made sure he was back every summer, even when stationed on the USS Forrestal — even when he had to pay someone $5 to cover his duty.

He was joined by his son, John Eacho, 43, who said said he gets a kick out of watching people come up and thank his father for his service.

Nearby, Adam Currey parked his family right at the start of the parade route in Dundalk, the spot he used to occupy with his family in the 1990s. He brought a box of Dunkin' Donuts, and his two children ran to catch candy thrown by people marching in the parade.

"A lot has happened since the early '90s," said Currey, 35. "There's been wars and recessions. But the parade is still the parade."

Bel Air's celebration centered in Shamrock Park featured lots of old-timey activities. There was a hotly contested horseshoe-throwing contest (about 100 people participated) a water balloon toss, a watermelon-eating competition, and a game of "Uncle Sam Says."

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Horseshoes are a serious business for Rick Morrison, 54, of Dublin, who participated in the competition with his son and grandson.

"It's a tradition for us — Fourth of July, the first thing we're doing is coming and playing horseshoes," Morrison said.

U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen marched in some of the local parades, along with Gov. Larry Hogan and other members of Congress and state officials.

Some people yelled from the sidewalks as politicians they disagreed with marched by. Stephen Woodall shouted to Attorney General Brian Frosh that he loves his gun and his president.

"You can't get 'em on the phone," Woodall, 67, said of the lawmakers as he watched the Arbutus celebration. "This way, you can see them and say something meaningful to them like, 'You stink.'"

Frosh delivered an opinion July 3 rejecting the Trump administration's request for the personal information of Maryland voters. Before marching in the parade, Frosh said the Fourth of July is about freedom and independence, which "fits well with what we did yesterday."

Others looked past the political differences and heated rhetoric in Washington. The holiday for them was about showing patriotism. Christine Ramirez, decked out in a dress decorated in small American flags and wearing red, white and blue beads, said that "no matter where we come from or what our beliefs are, at the end of the day, we're all American."

Maria Rouli immigrated to America from Peru 15 years ago, and attended her first Catonsville Fourth of July parade this year. Rouli said she didn't know about the treasured Catonsville tradition of setting up lawn chairs weeks in advance to reserve a spot along the route.

Nonetheless, the Catonsville Baptist Church offered her a spot on the sidewalk right outside their building and gave Rouli free water and a hot dog.

Rouli, who is Muslim and wears a hijab, said the church's hospitality represents what's best about the country she moved to in search of a "a better future."

"I have always found nice people here in this country," she said. "That's America."

Baltimore Sun reporter Mary Carole McCauley and Sun media group reporter David Anderson contributed to this article.

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