(Part 1 of 2)

With the mercury resting comfortably in the teens and lower twenties, now's as good a time as any to plan for the 45th annual Portage Lakes July Fourth Boat Parade. And if you're one of those who waits until the last minute before deciding to enter, wait no more. Now is also the best time to decide.

Your boat is still in winter storage, there's plenty of time to plan and then purchase decorations or whatever material is needed to turn your vessel into a winning entry, and the family is home each evening to contribute suggestions on the boat's theme.

Scenes from Western movies have always been popular with the boat parade crowd. Using scenes from movies such as the Gunfight at the OK Corral, Big Jake, Cheyenne Autumn, A Fistful of Dollars or Calamity Jane have been crowd pleasers and quite often judged as winners.

Westerns aren't the only theme. Another popular theme is Storybook Land. Pick Mother Goose and there are so many characters from which to choose you could use an entire weekend with the little ones trying to decide. And dressing them up as one of the Mother Goose characters tickles them to no end. It's as if they're dressing for Halloween, only four months earlier. And they love it.

The young lads and lassies will also like cartoon characters. From their Saturday morning TV shows, there are Deputy Dog, Tom and Jerry, Donald and Daisy Duck, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Goofy, a dog that talks, and Pluto, a dog that can't (or is it the other way around?). Back in the 1980s when we had the Disney cartoon characters up from Disney World in Florida as Grand Marshals, more kids took part in the parade and watched it than any of the past 44 years of which I can recall.

For adults, what better way to celebrate the birthday of our country than to create a floating tribute to the founding fathers. General George Washington crossing the ice cold Delaware River with his shivering, malnourished troops on their way to launch a surprise attack on the Hessians who were holding down the fort for the English at Trenton, New Jersey, the night of Dec. 25, 1776. What a scene that makes! You could recruit your whole neighborhood to play Washington's troops.

Live musical theatre as well as movie musicals are other avenues to use. With a little practice you and your friends might sing tunes from famous movie or theatre scenes, such as, Mame, Hamilton, 1776, Walkin' in the Rain, Fiddler on the Roof, Gigi, The Sound of Music or Three Coins in a Fountain.

But then a theme is not really necessary. Neither is a sky-high budget. Thriftiness does just fine. Spend a few dollars at a discount store for crepe paper streamers, small and medium size flags and bags of various size balloons. Tie balloons, streamers and flags around your boat, invite a group of your friends to ride along, enter the parade and have a grand time.

One of the simplest decorated boats I've ever witnessed was during a July Fourth parade shortly after it began in 1976. A fourteen foot white wooden boat with a small outboard engine putt-putted along with the others. The only decoration was a tall American flag attached to the bow and waving majestically in the breeze. On the seat at the bow sat a dog, perhaps some breed of water dog because you could tell it loved the water. At the stern sat a 10 to 12 year old lad, piloting the boat and talking gently to his dog as if they were the only ones on the water.

That's all it was. A white wooden skiff, a tall flag, a dog and a boy. Simple, but what a scene it made and how it tugged at your heartstrings. I never did find out if the lad won any award, but if he didn't, the judges must've had their eyes closed as he went by.

If they did, it's too bad because they missed a Norman Rockwell classic.

Next Week: More ideas on decorating a boat

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