But then it did start, and it seemed like the heat and the waiting didn’t matter anymore. At the first sight of sweet treats being thrown, a little girl looked up at her mother and said, “Mama, candy’s coming!”
Rocky Long was certainly not worried about the heat or the waiting — he was just happy to be at the 35th annual Carrollton Evening Sertoma Club’s People’s Parade.
Long, 53, was diagnosed in December 2009 with cancer in his kidneys. Since then, it has spread to his shoulders and spine. He was in a hospice care center in Albany, Ga., just last week, but was released.
Long, a Whitesburg native, moved to Albany in 1994 and met his wife Ruby there. Last week, after being released from hospice, Rocky and Ruby came back to Carroll County to stay with family.
Rocky’s brother, Stanley Long, said his family didn’t know if Rocky would make it to July 4.
“Two weeks ago, we didn’t think he’d be alive today,” Stanley said. “So we are very thankful he’s here with us today.”
But now, Rocky is sitting with a pillow under his arm and a fan blowing air on his face. He’s sitting in a sleek golf cart used to campaign for his niece’s husband, and he’s ready to ride through Carrollton.
“I thank God I’m here,” Rocky said. “I’m making the most of the time I’ve got left. I’m glad I have the freedom and the ability to come out here and celebrate this day and our independence.”
Many came out to view the parade, which engulfed downtown Carrollton in patriotic colors from Dairy Queen on Highway 27 to Kmart on Bankhead Highway — a distance of almost two miles. People sat in beach chairs with arms touching for an hour and a half as the parade wound its way through the city.
Both spectators and participants were willing to share what the holiday means to them.
American Legion Post 143 Commander Donald Levans said Independence Day means “everything” to him.
“There are troops serving us over there right now,” he said. “And someday, they’ll be here and there will be other troops serving them. But it’s our turn now, and that’s what makes this day so special.”
Levans also praised the coordinators of the parade for doing something they’d never done before — put the veterans up front.
“We’ve got all the veterans and people from the Veterans Memorial Park right here at the beginning of the parade,” Levans said. “That really means something to us.”
Sitting in the Carroll County Veterans Memorial Park truck was the county’s oldest living World War II prisoner of war, 89-year-old Hugh Lee Young.
Alvin Hunnicutt, a pastor of a church in Whitesburg, said he knows why so many people attend the parade.
“People love to get together and celebrate our independence, and we can do that because we’re free,” he said.
Hunnicutt, who served in the U.S. Navy in the 1970s, said the reason he and his family attend is more about reflection than catching thrown treats.
“It’s not all about the candy,” he said. “It’s about getting a chance to reflect on our freedom.”
Rebecca Smith, a member of Carrollton’s Evening Sertoma Club who served as parade coordinator this year, said it’s part of the club’s civic duty to manage the parade every year.
“It’s just what we do,” she said. “This is our 12th year doing it, and we donate the money raised to the upkeep of the veterans park.”
Smith said it was an important decision to have the veterans at the beginning of the parade, right after the Carrollton Police Department and Carroll County Sheriff’s Office motorcycles and cars.
“We love our traditional entries — our tractors, our churches, our businesses,” she said. “But we had to make a special place for our veterans.”
Grand marshal at Wednesday’s parade was Jim Gill. Gill is currently serving as interim vice president of advancement at the University of West Georgia.
The parade featured an eclectic mix of participants: high school bands, political candidates, tractors, horses and Ronald McDonald. Kylo Almon finished the parade with a finale on a horse.
SpinnerZ Family Skate Center’s float was selected as the winner of the eighth annual Spirit Cup Award, presented last night at the Sounds of Liberty concert to the overall most spirited crew.
Winners in the parade contest were selected by judges before the parade started. Smith said the results were based on criteria including creativity and the overall spirit of the float.
First- and second-place winners this year were:
• Large business: Southwire, first place; University of West Georgia, second place.
• Small business: Ole McDermitt’s Farm, first place; Anderson’s Florists, second place.
• Churches: Grace Cafe Church, first place; Heritage Heights Baptist Church, second place.
• General: Scrap Bin, first place; Carroll County Humane Society, second place.
These winners were selected from a pool of almost forty competing floats, but there were at least 98 participants in the parade. The record for the most entries still stands at 110, set in 2004.
Harry Nelson, a Carrollton resident, had his 3-year-old daughter Elizabeth on his shoulders for most of the parade.
“It’s fun to see everyone in the community and all get together at least once a year,” Nelson said. “And, of course, the kids love the free candy.”