The streets of downtown Ft. Myers will be lined with spectators this Sunday – taking in the 68th Annual Dunbar Easter Parade. The parade is a tradition dating back to 1945. The driving force behind its creation was Evelyn Sams Canady – a teacher who wanted her black students to have a celebration of their own to rival the City of Palms annual Festival of Light. Sams Canady was Daisy Upshaw Benjamin’s third grade teacher. The retired educator and volunteer with the Lee County Black History Society has fond memories of Sams Canady and the Parade.
Edison State College Professor David McGrath recalls memories of a home spun Christmas as a child.
I must have been seven or eight, when my parents had scant room in their budget for Christmas decorations. They had eight kids squeezed into a three bedroom brick bungalow, and a yellowing plastic snowman with a light socket inside his belly.
One night, the old man loaded us into the Pontiac station wagon for a tour of the festively lighted houses on the other side of town. We merged into a parade of cars creeping down the street where our Uncle Don and the other wealthy folks lived, some of whom had hired professionals to festoon their gables with hundreds of holiday lights.
I fell asleep in the overheated back seat. Then I felt the car slow, tilt, and stop, and I sat up to see our lonely snowman, glowing faintly on the front lawn.
No school in the morning, so Mom let us stay up while she boiled milk in the soup kettle and mixed and ladled out mugs of cocoa around the kitchen table. She waited till Dad escaped to the living room to watch The Honeymooners.
“I have an idea,” she said, and we stopped blowing on the cocoa in order to listen.
She was always coming up with schemes, like on the I Love Lucy show we watched Monday nights. But Mom’s plans, unlike poor Lucy’s, were usually successful, as when we made seven dollars hauling black dirt in our coaster wagon for Mrs. Remiasz’s garden; or when we sold ten cent tickets for admission to the McGrath Christmas pageant. Kenneth played Joseph, and Rosie, the Virgin Mary. I was to be the shepherd until Patrick whined about getting poked with my staff (Dad’s umbrella).
“Who wants to help make the stable of Bethlehem?” said Mom.
I froze. This was something big.
It seems she had ordered patterns for Mary and Joseph and the Magi, and several farm animals, from the Sears catalogue. They were like sections of wallpaper, except that instead of flowers or stripes, there were images of the infant Jesus and other full length figures.
Old Joe Corbett from the next block had a workshop, and she would ask him to cut the manger shapes from plywood, onto which she could glue the paper likenesses.
I didn’t know from pattern or plywood, but I stood in my chair, pleading to help Charlie with the hay and Jimmy with the evergreen boughs.
I tried to see it all in my head, when somebody suddenly knocked over my cocoa. And I knew it was a special night since Mom didn’t even yell.
That night, I lay in bed for many whiles before giving in to sleep, envisioning the parade of headlights that would surely be streaming past our house.
We worked on the stable for a week, with time lost for three days of rotten weather. Mr. Corbett’s wooden people had to wait inside our kitchen, and I remember feeling shy each time Blessed Mary watched me open the fridge.
The night it was finished, we all lined up on the front walk. We stared in silence.
The stable slumped noticeably to the left, our old ping pong table turned on its side with its roof of pine branches. The saints and animals surrounding the cradle looked cartoonish, particularly the smiling sheep. And there was way too much yellow hay, since Dad had somehow acquired an entire bale, which we spread inside and outside the stable, knee-high to the three kings.
But when Mom plugged in the spotlight, I felt goosebumps inside my shirtsleeves. It was my life’s first moment of blissful being, gazing upon truth and beauty that we had helped make ourselves.
Dad said not to walk inside, lest we knock anything over, so all I could do was dance round and round till I fell over dizzy, looking up at the stars.
But after school one day, I sneaked inside the stable alone, nestling behind the crib. It felt like an embrace, cozy and safe in the warmth of the hay, the resin-y sweetness of the plywood, and the nearness of the baby Jesus, who would never be a bad boy like me.
That was decades ago. Every Christmas since then, I recall the kitschy crèche in our front yard, how its homemade incandescence gave us ownership of the yuletide ritual, and infused us with joy.
Knowing now, of course, that it was my family’s embrace that I felt in the stable, the true miracle of Christmas, authored by my mother and father, and still giving me goosebumps this day.
David McGrath teaches English at Edison State College and is author of the novel SIEGE AT OJIBWA. He consulted his 92-year-old mother Gertrude for this story and apologizes for not being able to recall how much she paid Joe Corbett for the plywood.
as Constitution Day – the same day as Citizenship Day. They mandated
that all federally funded schools teach something about the
constitution on that day. Many schools pass out small copies of the
constitution. But, at Florida Gulf Coast University a group of
students and professors decided to take it a little farther. WGCU’s
Luis Hernandez has this report.
was a joyful clamor this morning in front of Mark Loren Designs on
McGregor Boulevard in Ft. Myers. The custom jeweler, who’s worked in
the community for 25 years, is offering a Mother’s Day Special. He and
his staff have designed a silver heart shaped pendant engraved with the
word “Mom” that he’s giving away for free to anyone who’s been affected
by unemployment or foreclosure. Loren says the retail value is more
than a hundred dollars – but the pendants can’t be purchased. WGCU’s
Valerie Alker talked to Loren and mingled with the crowd.