Tradition marks holiday festivities

HOWLAND – For some folks, the annual Fourth of July parade is an opportunity to reconnect with old friends.

For 3-year-old Meeyia Barta, it’s all about the candy.

Meeyia joined the dozens of children who moved about Thursday morning, gathering the candy and bubble gum tossed their way at the Independence Day parade in Howland. The toddler added a few extra steps to her dance each time she garnered a bite-sized Tootsie Roll.

The procession moved along East Market Street from Hunters Plaza to Howland High School. It was just one of more than a dozen holiday events and festivities around the area Thursday.

“She’s so excited,” said her mom, Jamie Barta of Warren. “It’s everything. The people, the sirens, everything. She loves it.”

Hundreds of people assembled in two separate lines, one on each side of the street, to watch the floats, horses, police cruisers, fire trucks and flags.

With eyes fixed and finger pointed to the cavalcade moving down the hill and drawing closer, 4-year-old Sophia Spatar exclaimed “They’re coming.”

Sophia bounced excitedly, trying to edge her way farther towards the middle of the street and closer to the action as her mom, Leslie Spatar of Howland, beckoned her back to her side.

“She’s excited. Maybe a little too excited,” her mom explained. “She wants to be so close to everything. She loves the sirens. She loves everything about it. The more noise the better.”

Becky Vandergrift of Howland grew up with the parade, which has become a family tradition and staple in holiday festivities.

“It’s nice to see everybody, especially people you don’t get too see very much,” she said. “There are so many people who come and some live out of town now but they’re visiting their families and this really is the place to be for so many of us. It amazes me how early people get here to set up their chairs and find a place to sit. It really is a big part of the community.”

Vandergrift joined her mom, Helen Gillam, also of Howland, as the two women admired the patriotic outfits many of the children wore, the flags they waved and the smiles that donned their faces.

“I’m a lifelong resident of Howland and I’ve been coming here for years,” Gillam said. “It’s a tradition. You get to see people. You get to see the people in the parade and the children who are so excited. The Fourth just wouldn’t be the same without all of this. It’s a big part of our day.”