A special neighborhood's
by TRACEY BARNES PRIESTLEY
The Warren Creek Road Fourth of July parade was born out of necessity. Longtime residents Debbie and Forrest Stamper had been hosting an annual potluck and fireworks for a few years in this rural neighborhood northeast of Arcata. As Debbie explained, "The kids were all so little in the beginning. They were happy to just eat and slip `n slide." But then, when the kids got a little older, "we needed something to do to fill in the time between eating and the fireworks." Oh, don't we all know this awkward part of the evening, when the sun stays up longer than half of the guest list should? What to do? The solution may have eluded most of us but not the Stampers. "Why, have a parade!" It appears to have been a stroke of genius.
In the early years kids rode their decorated bikes, parents pulled toddlers in wagons and everyone else just happily wandered down the road waving flags. It was simple, it was fun; most importantly it was neighbors coming together. But because it meant so much to so many, the parade naturally began to grow. And now, 16 years later, it is a true extravaganza -- in a country-fun, best-possible-neighborhood kind of way
Debbie Stamper described some of the preparations. "We actually had to mark our calendar this year so we would know when to pot our Fourth of July plants -- you know, red, white and blue blooms -- because last year they weren't quite in their full glory!" Up and down the road families make costumes, create decorations and dream up red, white and blue dishes to share.
On the Fourth of July, by Stamper's estimate, approximately 100 people, representing more than 25 families and as many as four generations, gather for the parade. At the appointed hour, neighbor Dave Kinzer -- resplendent in his overalls, straw hat and patriotic kerchief -- ambles down the road in his tractor, pulling a trailer full of hay bales behind him. The bucket of the tractor is lined with blankets, so that toddlers too little to walk can have the best seat in the parade. (One photo I saw had six little sprites and one happy dad held aloft in the bucket.) Friends too old, or uninspired by physical activity, sit on the hay to share the good company.
The neighborhood quickly falls in -- a couple of decked-out quad runners, a golf cart full of revelers, a small lawn tractor pulling an even smaller wagon. As in the past, parents pull children in wagons, kids ride their bikes and the rest walk along. It seems as though everyone has an American flag to wave. "And of course," says Debbie, "there's the patriotic caroling!" A portable CD player blasts those classic American tunes that make your heart swell. Songbooks are passed out because, on top of everything else, this parade is an enthusiastic sing-a-long!
But as I listened to the details of the parade and shared the easy and frequent laughter of the Stampers, it became apparent that this annual celebration reflects a neighborhood that has become a rare treasure. In between the details of the best costume or photos of yet another precious toddler, I heard stories of neighbor helping neighbor throughout the entire year. There was the mudslide that took one family's new car to the brink of ruin, saved by the quick and daring action of friends down the road. Debbie described a hose that links the family with city water to the family with well water, "because when the power goes off, they can't use their pump." There was the time when the supply of firewood kept getting magically replenished at the home of the family whose husband/father faced a major illness. And, most poignantly, there was the help, support, comfort and laughter the neighborhood showered upon one of their own as he fought, but ultimately lost, his battle with brain cancer.
I wondered what it was that made Warren Creek Road such a wonderful place to live. With a real twinkle in her eye and her tongue firmly in her cheek, Debbie offered, "Well, there have been different theories. Some people think it's something in the water." She paused to look at Leah, one of her bright, beautiful daughters. "Like the kids are all extremely brilliant. They all go on to at least county science fair!"
After the laughter died down, Leah offered up her own theory: "Before we were here, generations of kids roamed the neighborhood. Their parents never had to worry about where they were. Come dinnertime, a parent would call their kids. A neighbor might answer; finally their kids would call back, all of their voices bouncing off of the river bar. Everyone has just always looked out for each other."
A photo of a white sheet cake decorated with red and blue berries caught my eye right about the time Debbie sighed, "It's just a good place to live. I've often wondered how we got so lucky."
Personally, I don't think it's all luck. There's a real generosity of spirit that, like the parade, meanders up and down this dusty lane. No, I think it's people genuinely caring about each other.
You still have time to plan your own neighborhood Fourth of July celebration. A stronger connection with those around you might bring a certain satisfaction to your life. It certainly has to the folks on Warren Creek Road.
(My thanks to Warren Creek Road residents Peggy Murray and Robin Kinzer for their contributions to this story.)
© Copyright 2003, North Coast Journal, Inc.