Confessions of a parade grand marshal: I ain’t no Tootie Fruity.
The thin man with large glasses and a big smile was a beloved fixture at the head of Beaufort’s parades for many years. Dressed in white pants and a white cap, he waved to the crowd and strutted in time, always a step ahead of the cheerleaders and the Parris Island Marine Band.
His real name was Wilson Lane Bourke, and he led his last parade six years ago when a hearse delivered his 81-year-old body to the Sixteen Gates Cemetery.
“He was physically and mentally challenged,” his pastor said at the time, “but one thing he did not lack was the ability to reach out and demonstrate his love.”
And, unlike Tootie Fruity, when the long, black Cadillac comes rolling for me, people will be more likely to remember the Wienermobile than what I’d truly wished to be.
What an odd episode the whole thing was. When the nonprofit committee of volunteers asked me to lead the 36th parade, noted by Gov. Henry McMaster as South Carolina’s oldest, the first thing I asked was whether they provided the car. I felt sure they didn’t want me tooling down Pope Avenue, waving from a 14-year-old Toyota Camry.
We did ease down the tree-draped avenue, in Bob Gregory’s black 1997 Bentley Azure convertible. We creeped by the site of the old Packet office, where my endless hours, days and decades of work played out like a tragicomedy beneath a leaky roof.
People stood five and six deep all along the 1.2-mile parade route, there to be seriously frivolous, or maybe to hear the Marines Hymn in perfect cadence, or marvel at Mr. Peanut and his Planters NUTmobile.
It was an out-of-body experience, but nice to be able to wave and smile from this shiny black chariot, which ended up at a VIP review stand, not Sixteen Gates. And the people waved back, and called out to me and my wife and blue heeler dog, Shasta. At one point, my wife, Sybil, started crying.
The children clearly expected candy, which we did not have.
I did have a cheesy green Irish-like cap, like one they’d pass out at The Home. And thanks to Bill Carson, I didn’t have to wear the limish-shaded sports coat that I got off the Internet. It may or may not have been made from nuclear waste, but it clearly was a fire hazard.
Bill read in my interview with Barry Kaufman in CH2 magazine that I was having trouble finding green stuff, so he sent over a beautiful green jacket that made me wonder what year he won the Masters. He said it fit him years ago and I could wear it or pass it along to the charity of my choice. I became that charity, in snug stylish threads from Knickers.
People asked what my duties were as grand marshal. It was simply to show up.
Frank Dunne Jr., Lynne Hummell and Kathy Perry became my handlers from the parade committee. I’m so old I didn’t know Kathy but I knew her father, Hilton Head’s first paid fire chief, Dave MacLellan.
I met Kim Gusby at WSAV-TV, and Sandy Benson at WHHI-TV, and was interviewed by Monty Jett on 96.1 The Island. I told him I now know what it feels like to be Monty Jett, with that Hollywood name and New Orleans voice, because the parade is a much bigger deal to islanders than I had imagined.
And it was a big enough deal to bring our first grandbaby, Bram Lauderdale, from Brooklyn, New York, to Hilton Head Island for the first time in his five months of life.
My wish for little Bram is the same as it is for everyone connected to the parade. Be like Tootie Fruity, the grandest grand marshal of them all, who blew the whistle and waved the baton to demonstrate a high-stepping love.