It wasn't the longest parade I've ever been a part of, but it will certainly be one of the most memorable.
I was neither watching as a spectator nor working as a reporter.
This year, I had another task.
My daughter was participating with the YMCA Powerhouse Gymnastics team and I tagged along, carrying lunch, water, sun block, sunglasses, and, of course, my camera.
The group gathered at 9 a.m. at the YMCA.
It was already hot and sunny and we still had two hours before the start of the parade.
There were a number of parents marching with the group. Instead of piling us up at the back of the unit as support crew, most of us were assigned responsibility for a row of youngsters.
I was in charge of row 5. I was expected to follow a reasonable distance behind row 4 so row 5 could look over and see where they should be. Gymnasts tend to send their feet flying over their heads from time to time. Being too close to the row in front or behind can lead to unpleasant circumstances. My daughter was in row 4. I didn't want 5 kicking 4. Other than that, I didn't have any responsibilities.
Until the storm.
Mike Noe of the Glade Volunteer Fire Department was also walking with the group. His phone went off a few times with weather alerts. Some unpleasant weather was coming out of the northwest, he said, and asked if my camera bag was waterproof.
Coach Courtney (Froman) told me that, in the event of severe weather, I would be responsible for making sure everyone in row 5 got to safety. Safety was defined as the closest open building that had enough space for all the gymnasts. It was good to have a plan.
Four girls might not seem like that many. But, allowing for chaos, I figured four was my limit. Then I learned I would only have to account for two. As I said, there were a number of parents there. But I told the four girls of row 5 to stick together.
The clouds had moved in as we headed down Lexington Avenue toward Carver Street.
The girls were doing cartwheels and roundoffs as soon as we hit Pennsylvania Avenue. I think they could have kept it up for the whole length of the parade.
The dark, ominous sky to the northwest was secondary to keeping row 5 from kicking row 4 in their heads and hoping row 6 would be similarly cautious.
I heard Noe's phone announcing warnings a few times.
The rain began as we got close to Conewango Avenue.
The serious stuff was close on its heels.
The last announcement over Noe's phone said to expect high winds, frequent lightning, and hail.
There was one very dark cloud in the sky ahead of us. It was moving quickly closer. The wind kicked up and huge drops of rain started to fall. Hillsides to the west and north looked unclear. I assumed it was already raining heavily there.
The Powerhouse lead vehicle (with music and water bottles) was at Conewango Avenue. Three City of Warren Police officers conferred with the Powerhouse leadership.
In the next moments, I heard several times that the remainder of the parade was canceled. The group hadn't disbanded and I'm not in the habit of taking rumors - sensible or otherwise - at face value.
I looked up the road and saw that the sign on a unit ahead of us had blown over and was lying in the road.
The final word came seconds later. Lightning was visible ahead. The rain drops were large, pelting, and falling at a diagonal with the wind. It was time to go.
The Y was a little over three blocks away. We ran.
The girls run at practice. I don't.
I watched two girls of row 5 run away with mom. The others, not much bothered by the rain, were soon at the back of the pack. I stayed with them. Maybe they were just being kind to me and my running skills.
The older girls encouraged, and in some cases, carried, the youngest. I was not alone at the back of the group nor in my supervision of the girls of row 5. Coach Kassandra (Wilson) unwittingly shamed me into running a little faster when she told the girls that they run all the time, so this was no big deal.
The rain was heavy. Some girls said they saw and felt hail. I wouldn't be surprised, but I was busy trying to keep up.
There was no panic, certainly not as much as when the volunteers with the North Warren fire department behind us at setup surprised us with a blast from their engine's horn.
At the Y, we made sure everyone was present and accounted for. Then the gymnasts with parents on hand were allowed to leave.
When my daughter came to me, ready to leave, I told her how proud I was that she had done as she was told and not panicked.
As we were driving away (eastbound, I didn't know what traffic would be like closer to the center of town) I saw parade participants and spectators gathered in buildings and under overhangs. At the Kwik-Fill between Linwood and Carver streets, there had to be 80 people gathered under cover. I don't know what group it was, but one of the bands went ahead with the musical portion of its performance despite the cancellation of the parade.
My daughter said it was her favorite Fourth of July ever.