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Misty-Eyed on the Glorious Third


Havre de Grace -- This evening, fireworks will boom over the water here, frightening some of the smaller children but not the urbane mallard ducks who live along the shoreline.

A flotilla of boats, some having left their slips for their only voyage of the season, will have already anchored in the river for the spectacle. The mallards will be out in force too, paying their respects to every vessel and cleaning the water of taco chips and other floating delicacies.

As the sun slips down into the woods over beyond the sewage-treatment plant, the mosquitoes and the marine police will come buzzing out after their prey. The mosquitoes are females and will bite anyone. The police, who come by law in all possible genders, are choosier, and usually put the bite only on boat owners with out-of-date registration stickers.

On the shore, picnic-toting onlookers will gather on the grass of Tydings Park, just as they have for decades, while nearby the brightly lighted rides of the visiting carnival will be spinning giddy couples up into the summer night. (This is a ritual of sociological significance; scientific research confirms that riding the Tilt-A-Whirl can encourage the establishment of interesting relationships.)

Havre de Grace used to observe Independence Day like everyone else, on the Glorious Fourth, but marketplace considerations ended that tradition a few years ago. There is competition among Independence Day celebrators just as there is among fried-chicken outlets, and the city had been finding it increasingly difficult to attract the best marching units to appear the annual parade down Union Avenue.

So the controversial decision was made to hold the parade and fireworks display on the weekend nearest to the Fourth instead of on the day itself. This immediately improved the city's bargaining position. A hotshot fife-and-drum unit from upstate New York, say, was only too happy to pick up an appearance fee by marching in Havre de Grace while on its way to, or back from, a Fourth of July appearance in Washington.

As might have been expected, conservatives at first complained about the change. But the wisdom of the new flexible schedule was soon apparent, and it's now almost universally accepted. This year the celebration is on the Glorious Third, which is to say today, and those who overdo it will be able to sleep in on the real holiday the next morning.

The Havre de Grace parade is always popular with politicians, and more than ever in an election year. Office holders and office seekers know that an Independence Day ride down Union Avenue means that a lot of people, most of them in a mellow mood because of the holiday, will see them. It's fun, too. Usually candidates here ride in convertibles, but sometimes they choose a Model A Ford or a pickup truck if that's more in keeping with their image.

We anticipate a slew of candidates here this year, what with all the local offices being contested. The Harford and Cecil County byways are thick with would-be sheriffs, legislators, commissioners, registers of wills and council members, and a large number of them will be parading this afternoon in Havre de Grace, if they can find it.

Some will have faces we haven't seen before and aren't likely ever to see again, but no matter. On this glorious afternoon they'll be out there with all the others, tucked into the parade along with the fire trucks and the national guardsmen and the Boy Scouts, the marching bands and the farm queens, the unicycles and the horses, enjoying their moment in the sunshine enormously before those dismaying election results come inevitably in.

One familiar face in the parade of notables will be that of Havre de Grace's mayor, Gunther Hirsch, who for some reason is seeking election to the House of Delegates.

As a career move, this step is perplexing but not unprecedented. The previous mayor of Havre de Grace, David Craig, is a delegate today. He is giving up that seat to run for the state Senate, and Mayor Hirsch apparently wants to follow in his footsteps. He finds Annapolis alluring, which probably suggests he hasn't been there much.

It's always been a mystery to me why anyone would want to give up a real job in local government, such as a seat on a county council or the office of mayor in an interesting small city, to disappear into the sea of mediocrities that state legislatures tend to be. It can't be the work or the surroundings that provide the attraction; perhaps it's the money, or the chance to get to know Bruce Bereano.

Years ago, when the Independence Day parade ended some local orator would make a rousing speech. We don't have local orators any more, so when the parade is over there's usually a traffic jam created by people trying to get out of town, and another one a few hours later when they come back to watch the fireworks. Nobody minds, though. It's part of our evolving patriotic tradition.

4( Peter A. Jay is a writer and farmer.

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