Parkstown Parade fans restart holiday tradition
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 12, 2006 1:45 PM
Deborah Exum is now assistant to the director at O'Berry Center, but remembers what it was like being a little girl growing up in the Parkstown area and going to the annual community Christmas parade there.
"All these bands, firetrucks -- it was just something that you looked forward to when you were a child," she said. "I remember it very well. We used to go down there and the parade would start just before you got into the main part of Parkstown.
"I remember my mama standing us up on the car and trying to see because there were so many people. It was just wonderful, being a part of that community."
Parkstown, nestled on the northern fringe of Goldsboro, held its first Christmas parade in 1951 when leaders of the tight-knit area decided to come up with their own version of the holiday event. For years, it was well-attended and eagerly anticipated.
"Then it stopped," Ms. Exum said. "It was something you missed because as a child it's what you looked forward to -- the big parade."
The last year the Parkstown parade was held was 1968, said Shirley Perry, part of the committee bringing the event back this year. Now nearly 40 years later, she said she hopes Thursday's parade will be the first of a restored annual tradition.
"We're the next generation," she said.
Ms. Perry said the parade has been the topic of discussion for years, "but you just talk about it. We were waiting to see who would take the reins."
Ms. Perry and cousin Douglas Rowe said the hopes of many materialized over the summer when another cousin, James "Dick" Bowden, now in Raleigh, agreed to take charge of the project.
"Back in July, August -- that's when we have the Jackson family reunion -- Dick said, 'If you guys help me out, I'll spearhead it,'" she said. "We're very aggressive. We'll get things done."
Subsequent meetings have been held, with a committee of nearly a dozen organizing and taking on the responsibilities. Ms. Perry is in charge of registration and getting entries for the parade.
"I have called a lot of people, asked if they were interested in being in the parade," she said. When it was advertised in the newspaper, she said, plans really took off.
"My phone rang off the hook," she said. "It's getting so big now, we had to make a deadline."
As of the weekend, she had 75 entrants planning to participate. There will be queens riding in convertibles, horses, professional floats and church entries, drill teams, marchers, fire trucks and representatives from the Air Force and Navy, as well as dune buggies, antique cars and motorcycle riders, she said. There will also be a Miss or Mr. Holiday, depending on which candidate raises the most money that will be used to pay for the bands' trips. And of course, Santa Claus, she said.
The event promises to be as big as it once was in its heyday, Rowe said.
"It really brought the communities together -- not only Parkstown, Beston, now Best Station, but also Best Grove, Saulston and Hood Swamp," he said.
Ms. Perry recalls the stream of people lining the streets to view the festivities.
"All of these people, coming from every which a-way. Just as many white folks as black folks, and they would look forward to it every year," she said.
"I was in about eighth or ninth grade and they asked me to play the part of Mary on the back of a truck. One of my classmates, Joseph Adams, he played the part of Joseph. That tickled me to death to be in that parade."
Ms. Perry also remembered watching her mother put streamers on Shirley's bicycle so sibling Leon could ride in the parade. And of course, the floats were typically homemade.
"Teachers would have us sitting for hours making flowers out of tissue paper," she said. "It was so pretty and people had their tractor-pulling floats. It was just outstanding."
Coming from a big family, Rowe said they didn't have transportation to make it to the Wilson or Goldsboro parades, so Parkstown was the only chance to see a parade other than on television.
Years ago, Rowe said, "Men in the community strung lights across the road. Now we don't do that. But we are asking everybody to add extra decorations to their homes and yards."
Rowe said he has noticed that residents who have not typically decorated in the past are doing so this year. Decorations were to be completed by midnight Monday, in time for a panel of judges to determine the best decorated yard.
Thursday's parade will start on Jesse Jackson Road and will run to Rosa Lane, crossing Parkstown Road along the way, the organizers said. Those planning to attend are advised to arrive early.
"We don't have any lights at Parkstown, so that's why we're starting at 3:45," Ms. Perry said. "Please get down there early because at a certain time the LaGrange Road is going to be closed. DOT is closing the street."
The grandstand will be in the Seventh Day Adventist Church parking lot. The grand marshals are several who helped start the parade years ago -- Sam Jackson, Napoleon Lewis, Perry Wiliams, Samuel Body, Frank Gardner Jr., Julia Jackson and Sally Body.
Also recognized that day will be Parkstown's oldest known resident, Mary Anna Taylor Britt, who turned 95 on Sunday.
Daughter Johnnie Bishop recalls being on a float in the parade with her sisters as children and Mrs. Britt making them all pink dresses. Her mother is excited about being in the parade, Ms. Bishop said. There are several suggestions being bandied about on how Mrs. Britt will travel, but the decision is still up in the air.
"I want her to ride on a motorycycle but my sister said (mother) isn't getting on a motorcycle," Ms. Bishop said, noting the sister wants to buy their mother a hat and gloves to wear for the occasion and a brother "said he's going to put a crown on her head and make his own float."
All Ms. Perry cares about now is good weather.
"I'm just praying for a good clear day, no rain and no snow, just a good clear day for Thursday," she said.
But come rain or shine, everyone she has spoken with seems to be thrilled about the resurrection of the parade.
"I've heard people say, 'Great! I'm looking forward to that' or 'I used to go to that years ago,'" she said. "People just responded so well.
"People that live down there have called. I got one that said, 'I'm so excited, I don't know what to do about that Parkstown parade.' He said everybody's talking about it everywhere he goes."
Former residents, some as far away as New Jersey, New York and Atlanta have expressed plans to attend, Rowe said.
"It's a very special time for us. It sort of brings everybody together," he said.
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