City staff set up bleachers in front of BB & T bank and across the street in front of city hall they placed a stage and sound equipment. As the sun’s rays faded, Christmas lights took center stage. People started gathering along the street chatting and reining in excited children as they waited for Heflin’s annual Christmas parade to begin.
“Light sticks, light sticks,” yelled a man pulling a cart filled with lighted wands, blow-up toys, cotton candy and knit hats. “Come and get ‘em.”
He blew a horn to draw the attention of the people gathered. Even as he hocked his merchandise up and down the street, another vendor across the street stopped to sell a lighted wand to a woman who flagged him down. Throughout the growing crowd, the light sticks waved back and forth and children swung empty grocery bags in big circles letting them fill up with air like wrinkly balloons.
Sitting on the curb wrapped up in a blanket together, Mandalyn Gonzales and her mother Marilee Gonzales huddled together waiting for their friends from Heflin to arrive. They live in Oxford but came to Heflin to meet them and watch the parade, Marilee Gonzales said.
“I’m looking forward to the candy,” said her 7-year-old with a smile.
She didn’t have a bag – we forgot to bring one said her mother – but she wasn’t worried.
“We got pockets,” Mandalyn Gonzales said.
Across the road, a minivan was parked with its hatch open. Some people sat in the back with bags of freshly roasted peanuts, while others stood nearby and reached in for a handful intermittently. The ground around the van was littered with shells. Behind them a vendor was selling the peanuts by the bagful.
Up the road McMichen’s Lost Creek Farms had a table laden with fudge, fried pies and several different kinds of candied pecans. It was a spur of the moment decision to come to the parade; they had been invited to when they were selling their goods at the Festival of Trees over the weekend, Denise McMichen said.
Nearby Heflin resident Betty Turner stood with her grandson Kolby Hammond, 8.
They’re regulars at the parade, she said.
“I think he’s been every year since he’s been looking for Santa,” Turner said.
Her grandson waved one of the lighted wands and bounced around her. He was waiting for Santa and for the horses, he said. But the older children had their own priorities. Chulafinnee resident Brian Banks, 11, said he was waiting for the candy. He held up his empty grocery bag and said when it was overflowing he’d stuff candy in his pockets.
“My favorite is the fire trucks because they’re big and they make loud noises,” Banks said of the parade participants.
The wail of police sirens and the thump, thump, thump of the Cleburne County High School Marching Band drummers let the people know the parade had started and the crowd drifted off the sidewalk and into the street to get a better look at the 56 entrants who were on their way.
Police cars led the way, lights flashing followed closely by Heflin Police Officer Jackie Stovall who was Grand Marshall of the parade.
Once the parade started, the bleachers emptied as children moved closer to the road to get in a better position to catch the candy they knew would be thrown their direction.
The floats started going by, one depicting ice fishermen complete with a lighted igloo, one with a gingerbread house, motorcycles decked out with lights and reindeer horns, a winter wonderland with brightly-lit Ferris wheel and merry-go-round. The children dashed into the street to grab candy that didn’t quite make it to them. As a float by Cheaha Dental went by tossing out toothbrushes, children ran into the street to grab those, too.
“That’s not cool,” said one girl after she realized what it was.
Jennifer Slade, from Waco, Ga., was at the parade with her son and daughter, her mother Rita Huckeba and brother Tony Moreno from Ranburne. She came all the way from Georgia because it sounded like fun, Slade said. This was her first Christmas parade this holiday season; but her brother had already been to the Ranburne parade two Saturdays before.
His daughter Alaina, 4, was in the Ranburne parade on a float for her preschool, Pride and Joy Preschool and Childcare Center, Moreno said. He’d also taken her to the Festival of Trees over the weekend in Heflin and they’d had breakfast with Santa at the Cleburne County Mountain Center, he added.
“I like to get her out,” Moreno said. “It’s a lot of fun. Good wholesome enjoyment for her.”
Staff writer Laura Camper 256-463-2872. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.