Kent Bernhardt column: Fabulous Fourth in Faith

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 29, 2012

In my history of walking this earth, I think I’ve missed only one Fourth of July celebration in Faith.
It was in 1976…our nation’s Bicentennial.
I know, it’s odd that I would miss that one, but it’s true. I was a student working at the time for Food Lion. Independence Day was a busy day for them, and I couldn’t get the day off. So while Faith was honoring our nation’s 200th birthday, I was stocking shelves and bagging groceries at Food Lion store #29 on Avalon Drive.
I was steamed, because I had never missed a Fourth of July celebration in Faith, especially the parade. There was something exciting about watching my little town swell not only with pride, but in size, to almost thirty thousand strong.
To miss the parade, rides, barbeque, even the greasy pole contest was unthinkable.
The Faith Fourth of July celebration had its modest beginnings in 1946, following the conclusion of World War II the year before. The American flag was waving proudly across the nation, and our boys were home from Europe and Japan. This tiny Rowan County town just had to do something.
The parade was modest that year, not the two-hour marathon that visitors see today. There were contests and games, and of course some fabulous Faith food.
But the idea grew through the years, and so did the crowd, once people discovered where to be for the big day. Next to Christmas, it became the most anticipated event of the year.
The parade, Lee’s Rides, the best barbeque for miles around, ball games, contests…all capped off by fireworks late in the evening became Faith’s identity.
I remember the day in my teens when I heard it described as the “largest Fourth of July celebration in the southeast.” And it was right here. I could look out my window and see it. I could walk outside and feel it, even smell it.
I have a long history with this yearly event. One of my earliest memories includes getting lost in the massive crowd at a very young age with my panic-stricken parents trying desperately to find me. I had wandered off on my own in search of a grape Nehi. I’m not sure how I planned to pay for it.
There was also the year that a carnival merchant talked me and a few of my friends into helping him wrap a large number of candy apples the night before the 4th, promising a special surprise for our efforts.
I dreamed of receiving a long stream of free ride tickets, and pictured myself spending countless hours on the Tilt-A-Whirl. Or, perhaps I would carry home a crisp 10 dollar bill, which I would also exchange for ride tickets.
At the end of an evening, I held my pay: six free candy apples to take home for my very own.
I hated candy apples. I hate them more now. My family wasn’t fond of them either. I remember watching them rot on a kitchen counter, appreciated by no one.
On a few occasions, I rode in the Faith Fourth of July Parade. In 1962, someone had the clever idea of building a float with a “children around the world” theme. About a dozen local kids would be assembled in costume, holding hands in unity.
I was about to turn seven at the time, and I jumped at the chance to participate. I had heard something about an Uncle Sam costume, and thought that would be a good match for me.
Reality stings at times, and on July 4, 1962, it slapped me right in the face.
Phil Koon would be Uncle Sam. I would be the fair skinned “little Dutch boy,” complete with large, clunky wooden shoes. To add to the ultimate humiliation, mom decided I would wear a touch of lipstick to make my thin lips stand out.
She should’ve just shot me. I was horrified as I anticipated the ribbing I would get from my friends.
“You look cute,” she assured me. I thought I looked like a Dutch hooker.
In retrospect, I did look cute. We all did. I think we won first place that year, and even made the newspaper. Still, many years would go by before I could pass a can of Dutch Boy paint without breaking into a cold sweat.
One year, I sang patriotic songs as part of a youth quartet on a float. In my early radio days, I twice appeared as the local boy turned “Daddy-O of the Radio” and threw candy to children along the parade route.
I’ve worked in ticket and barbeque booths, and for the last 35 years, have emceed the bandstand events following the parade.
I also crooned patriotic songs in the Faith park for many years as part of the Faith Community chorus, where I shared baritone duties with the likes of Bryce Ludwig, Donnie Moose, Grey Holshouser and many other town staples.
Bigger than ever, the celebration continues each year, and the town fills to overflowing with folks from all around in search of some Independence Day fun. Twenty years ago, we even welcomed a sitting President, George Herbert Walker Bush. What a memory.
So, I’ll probably see you around again this year, at least for part of the fun.
But you’ll forgive me if I don’t stop by the candy apple booth.
Kent Bernhardt lives in Salisbury.