Atwater was colored red, white and blue Monday morning as people from all over the county marched downtown for the annual Fourth of July parade and others lined the streets to watch, all the while cheering, clapping and waving in their patriotic outfits.
Paradegoers found respite beneath the shade trees along Third Street as temperatures climbed in typical Independence Day fashion.
Candida McDaniel and her family arrived at Ralston Park bright and early to grab a table, where they watched the parade. McDaniel has attended the event for the past 15 years; her church in Merced, Rose of Sharon, has a food booth there.
McDaniel’s daughter, Makaelah, 8, matched her mom in a tank top painted with red, blue and silver stars. Makaelah wore a bow in her hair with big letters that read “USA.”
“We come here every year,” Makaelah said, “and every year we wear the same clothes.”
McDaniel said while she was growing up, July Fourth was a day to celebrate with cousins, uncles, aunts and grandparents. Now that she and her cousins are grown, their children get to grow up together enjoying the holiday. “We celebrate the holiday with family and friends,” she said.
The parade was led by the colors and grand marshal Georgia Johnson, who is celebrating her last days in Merced County.
Johnson, 73, has lived in the county since the early ’70s, when her husband was stationed at Castle Air Force Base. They stayed in the county outside Atwater, living on a farm on Bell Drive. Her husband, Darrel, died a few years ago, and Georgia has remained on the farm.
Johnson has been involved with the Atwater Historical Society for 30 years, serving as president for about 20 of them. She worked to get the Bloss Home Museum restored after it was damaged by flooding in 2006.
But by the end of the week, she’ll no longer be an Atwater resident. She’s moving to Kern County to live with family.
“This will be the last thing I do,” she said about the parade. “In my heart, Atwater will always be home.”
She’s sure she’ll be back to visit. “I warned everyone,” she joked. “I don’t know when, but I’ll just show up.”
Another person leading the parade entries was Atwater’s “Mayor for the Day,” 8-year-old Kayla Damien. Dressed in a red, white and blue flower crown and a matching tutu, the youngster from Atwater got to ride atop a red Thunderbird and wave to the crowds, where people held signs with her name and cheered her on. She watched the rest of the parade from the judges’ booth with her mother, Veronica Olono.
Kayla’s wish to be “Mayor for the Day” was granted through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions.
Kayla said she was “happy and thankful” for the experience. “It feels really good to be the mayor,” she said with a smile.
Atwater’s other mayor, Jim Price, called Kayla the parade’s “hit” in a Facebook post later Monday morning. She also had something to look forward to Monday night: Kayla, as mayor, was responsible for pushing the button to ignite the fireworks show at Castle Commerce Center.
Ross and Joycelyn Simonet of Merced and Ray and Beverly Baker of Atwater reflected on the holiday as they sat along the parade route on Broadway Avenue after enjoying a hearty meal at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post. Ross Simonet and Ray Baker are both Vietnam veterans.
The Bakers have attended the parade since the 1970s. “It’s one of the few days everybody seems to get along,” Ray Baker said about Independence Day. “My favorite part is what is stands for.”
Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477