For some reason, the night of Payson’s annual Electric Light Parade seems the coldest of the year — and this Saturday, Dec. 7 did not disappoint.
By 5 p.m. the temperature had dropped to 35 degrees, with storm clouds moving in quickly from the Rim.
Then snow fell, but that did not dampen the spirits of the Payson trees.
About 20 intrepid Rim Country residents, myself included, donned the iconic tree costumes used in this year’s Fiesta Bowl Parade to represent Payson and the Rim Country. Payson won The Spirit of Arizona and the Arizona Milk Products Half Pint awards at the nationally televised parade.
However, it wasn’t easy for Cameron Davis, Payson Parks, Recreation and Tourism director, to drum up volunteers — he had to start early.
“For those of you who went to the Fiesta Bowl Parade, this parade will be a breeze,” he wrote in an e-mail to former and future trees before Halloween.
Well, he was right, the parade was a breeze. Gusts of wind blew and would have frozen us except for the substantial costumes.
This year the theme — a Charlie Brown Christmas — featured Snoopy, Charlie Brown and Lucy faces everywhere.
Home Depot turned its huge white semi-truck into a into Snoopy’s face. The trailer in back had Lucy’s psychology shack and the gang sprawled all over.
But it was Payson Regional Medical Center that made the biggest impression, literally. The group made huge papier-mâché heads of Peanuts’ characters which won them first place in the commercial float category.
Yet, what always makes the parade a memorable event is not the weather or blinking electric lights, it’s the people of Rim Country who brave the cold to watch the town put on a display.
“We really appreciate the support from the community on this event,” said Davis.
Davis said he and his staff estimated 1,500 people braved the cold to watch 41 different entries festooned with electric lights stream down Main Street.
“It was so cold, but people still showed up and had a great time,” said Davis.
And they did. Fires blazed from braziers, people filled mugs from vats of hot chocolate and little children’s eyes shown as they waved to the characters in the parade.
We trees saw that up close and personal. As we volunteers who included, Tim Wright, Payson town attorney, John Wakelin, volunteer extraordinaire, Susan Walker, single mom and entrepreneur, and Andy McKinney, Rim Review movie critic, walked down Main Street, children and residents waved and called out, “Merry Christmas!”
The parade watchers survived the cold with multiple layers of clothing.
I had a couple of kids dare me to give them a high five, then a low five, then ... they pulled their hand away and giggled at me.
“This is why we live in a small town,” said Wright as he rushed over to give a hug to a fellow Rim Countryman.
I hate to sound cliché, but really, the warmth of the people chased the cold away — that and some seriously toasty long underwear, puffy ski jacket and a nice pair of Sorels.
If Cameron Davis asks for help again next year, you bet I’ll be there no matter how cold the weather.