The theme of Saturday's Fourth of July parade in downtown Modesto was "Celebrate the Past, Present and Future," and it struck a chord with Melanie Brunner's family as they watched the parade from lawn chairs near 11th and I streets.
"We got three generations of family here," said Brunner, 40, of Turlock. "It's just a tradition."
Brunner said she's attended the parade every year since she was born, because it gives her a chance to gather with family and honor U.S. servicemen and servicewomen.
Five thousand to 7,000 people lined downtown streets to watch the parade, said Modesto police Lt. Chris Fuzie.
The Modesto parade was one of many events in the area to celebrate our nation's birthday. Turlock held a parade and street fair, and there were fireworks at the Stanislaus County Fairground. There were parades in Gustine and Delhi and the annual Run for Independence in Atwater. Woodward Reservoir stopped letting in visitors at 11:30 a.m. after reaching capacity.
Brunner's 8-year-old daughter, Joely Wheeler, wore a shiny red, white and blue headband as she waved at war veterans as they marched carrying the American flag.
"I like to come down and see our veterans," Brunner said. "They put their lives on the line, and they should be honored."
The parade kicked off the Modesto Jaycees' 135th annual Fourth of July celebration, which featured a picnic at Graceada Park and a laser light show at night at nearby Enslen Park.
The picnic at Graceada Park had about 50 vendors and food booths, along with children's activities and music.
Organizers chose a choreographed laser show to light up the sky at the park rather than fireworks at John Thurman Field as a change of pace.
Pennsylvania-based Lightwave International, which staged the Modesto laser show, has put on similar productions for Madonna concerts and NBA and NHL games.
For some, the Fourth of July parade was a reminder that community members can pull together and enjoy themselves even in the face of a harsh economy.
Single parent Omar Barrita looked forward to bringing his 5-year-old son, Yahir.
"Even though it's tough times for everyone, the city always manages to do something like this for the community," said Barrita, 29, of Modesto. "Everyone is bummed out about the economy. At least this makes people forget, just for a little bit."
Barbara Barker was feeling the same as she watched the parade, dressed from head to toe in clothing adorned with American flags.
"It just makes you feel good to see the parade and support your community," said Barker, 60, of Modesto. "There's a lot of doom and gloom right now about the economy."
Barker said Independence Day is a chance for her to spread positive energy. After spending time at Graceada Park, she and family members would celebrate five family birthdays that are in July, including hers.
None of the Barker family birthdays are July 4, but about 20 people who were born on the holiday rode on a float. Their ages ranged from 1 to 90 years.
There were plenty of stars and stripes at the parade, including a group of teenage girls with U.S. flags painted on their faces.
And no Modesto parade can be complete without classic cars. From the 1930s, '40s and '50s, they carried dignitaries such as parade grand marshal Marie Gallo, president of Gallo Center for the Arts.
Bill Shanahan looks forward to watching the classic cars pass by. He says he has attended the parade every year since he and his wife moved from Illinois to Modesto in July 1978.
Like others, Shanahan was looking for a positive message with this year's parade. The failing economy was on his mind, but his sight was set on a brighter future.
"This too shall pass," said Shanahan, 67, of Modesto, "but it's not going to be easy for a lot of people."
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2394.
See video of Turlock fireworks show below