If the Almy family didn't make blueberry waffles for brunch, it just wouldn't be the Fourth of July in Garrett Park.
And if bearded Ned Dolan didn't don his red, white and blue Uncle Sam suit to lead the parade through the hilly tree-shaded streets, it wouldn't be the Fourth of July in Garrett Park.
And as for the fact that there are always about four times as many parade participants as spectators, well, that too is just the way they do things on the Fourth of July in Garrett Park, a collection of 325 close-knit families that cling to some small town traditions, defy many others and generally run this incorporated Montgomery County community more like a New England town than a typical Washington suburb.
There's hardly a better setting to find America's birthday still celebrated the way it once was. Neighbors all assemble at the school yard for a parade that marches under the shade of oak and hickory trees through streets with names from the works of Sir Walter Scott (Waverly, Montrose, Keswick). The ragtag line ends all the way down the hill at the small white post office and general store, at the edge of the railroad tracks, where the train still stops to pick up local commuters as it has since the days of President Grover Cleveland.
The parade is followed by a day of activities carried on in that relaxed small town way--first a two-mile run through town, a belly-flopping competition at the town pool, a game for kids to try catching a greased watermelon, then the men's and women's softball matches, followed by a picnic, a three-legged race and a tug-of-war.
As Garrett Park's Mayor Peggy Pratt summed it up in her July 4th address to the town: "When John Adams wrote that Independence Day should be celebrated throughout the land by 'pomp and parade, shows, games, sports, bells and illuminations,' he must have had us in mind."
Adams, incidentally, also mentioned 'guns,' which Pratt purposefully left out. Nonviolence, after all, is just another tradition of this tranquil town which, at the turn of the century, made it illegal to kill any tree or songbird and which last year voted to make itself America's first "Nuclear Free Zone." That referendum makes it illegal to transport, dispose of, store, manufacture or use nuclear weapons within the town's 123-acre limits.
Political activism, as the anti-nuclear referendum suggests, runs deep in Garrett Park, and there was no lack of politics yesterday. The theme of the parade, chosen by the town recreation council, was "Watt's Right With America," in reference to James Watt, the controversial Interior Department Secretary who found Las Vegas crooner Wayne Newton to be more desirable entertainment than the Beach Boys for the July 4 concert on the Mall.
In playing out that theme, and to poke some good-natured fun at Watt, a group of pint-sized Garrett Park paraders carried instruments and a sign labeled "Wayne Newton's Back-Up Band." The winner of the prize for best float was a group of young people dressed as "hippies" and other so-called undesirable elements, who rode a flatbed truck blaring the Beach Boys' pop hits.
"This has always been a politically active community," said Silvia Lichtenstein, a white-haired resident of 21 years who was sporting a T-shirt and buttons calling for a ban on nuclear weapons. "It's very much alive--a concerned community. We are at an advantage in that we have a town hall to meet in . And we do have a post office, where we can post our notices."
That awareness and some distinctly liberal politics do make Garrett Park different in many ways from much of small-town America. "Most small towns are further to the right," said Bob Einbinder, a member of the recreation council and vice-president of the Pool Board that runs the town's two swimming pools.
But politics mostly stayed on the back burner yesterday, while residents settled down for a good old-fashioned day of fun and games, free ice cream bars down by the general store, beer after the softball game, and, before everything, David Almy's blueberry waffles (a 12-year tradition in Garrett Park) served with your choice of Bloody Marys, screwdrivers or tequila.
"I like the amenities of the small town," said Hans Wegner, who moved to Garrett Park 10 years ago. "The thing they're having downtown is all very nice and good, but when you have to import big-name stars, you lose it all."