A Sheboygan traditiion goes dark
Was it the X-Box, or perhaps the Playstation?
Maybe it's soccer, or club baseball/football/skating obligations?
Whatever the cause, the result is the death of another tradition, this one being one that I have a personal attachment to--Sheboygan's Lantern Parade. It's one of those things that made my hometown feel, sound and look like, well, my hometown.
Each summer, Sheboygan's Recreation Department opens up playgrounds at schools and parks--supervised activities, sports, crafts--so kids have somewhere to go with their downtime. I went to the one at Washington School, virtually living there from the time it opened each morning until they shut it down at night. As the days would pass, we'd eventually get around to making a lantern--all made from cardboard with a candle inside, each unique to the kid who designed it.
Then would come one August night when we'd all trudge down to Vollrath Bowl--a big, open natural amphitheater near the lake--light our lanterns and march around in front of our parents, who'd line the sides of the bowl on lawn chairs and blankets.
Hundreds of kids took part back in my day, and it was one of the biggest gatherings of people I'd ever seen in person. It was all very cool, if not a little melancholy, since the parade meant both the end of summer and the start of school.
The tradition played out again Tuesday night in Sheboygan, but it won't ever happen again. The Recreation Department says the 2011 edition of the Lantern Parade--the 75th--is the last, citing a lack of interest.
Things obviously are different than they were when I was getting my butt kicked at playground tether ball in the summers of the early and mid 1960's. Mom was always home, Dad was at work,and school vacation months were left to the kids to plan. If you weren't in Little League, your summer was pretty much yours to spend as you wanted. We didn't have club sports. We didn't have video games--in fact, you weren't allowed to be in the house on a nice day--"nice" meaning any day where it wasn't raining sideways. You were allowed indoors only to take meals and only AFTER street lights came on.
Times changed. Moms went to work. Kids are spending their summers in other ways. And, a small-town tradition dies, in a city that, more than most, could use a little normalcy.
Sheboygan has been the source of many a strange/disconcerting story of late, but no matter where you are and how bizarre things get, it's good to have a few traditions to depend on--touchstones that remind you of better days, that assure you all will again be well. Lantern Day was one of those purely "Sheboygan" moments that kids remembered as they became parents and then would re-live with their own children.
That's what tradition is about. That's what Sheboygan was. It's way too bad that it has to go away, and a tragedy that it's falling victim to something as curable as a lack of interest.